$80 million in state funding cut from local road projects

In the looming shadow of the Interstate 10/Jefferson Street Interchange, dozens of Riverside County officials gathered Friday to speak out against the California Transportation Commission’s decision to cut $80 million from county infrastructure improvement projects.

In January, the CTC approved the proposed cut which, over the next five years, adds up to more than $750 million earmarked for road and other infrastructural repairs and upgrades across the state.

According to Commission Chair Lucy Dunn this cut will be the largest approved by the commission in two decades.

The need for such drastic change arose as a result of the continual decline in revenue from the state’s gas tax, Dunn said in a news release.

What once was 18 cents per gallon designated for the state has dropped to 12 cents over the last year and is expected by the commission to drop two more cents after July 1.

Every cent the tax loses equals a loss of about $140 million for local and state transportation projects.

Hundreds of projects statewide will lose anywhere from $125,000 to $155 million in funding, according to the list put out by the CTC.

In the Coachella Valley, two projects will lose state funding — the stretch of Highway 60 leading from the desert to Moreno Valley will lose $31.5 million for safety upgrades and the CV Link will lose $2 million.

CV Link construction will not begin anytime soon, which means there is still time to recover the lost funding for that project, according to county Supervisor Marion Ashley, who added that the Highway 60 project is not as lucky and is now in “limbo.”

“We will continue to see accidents involving trucks and cars until it can be constructed,” he said. “It’s a very, very dangerous highway.”

Last year, Gov. Jerry Brown called for a special legislative session on the transportation budget. In his proposed state budget, he calls for $36 billion in transportation funding over the next 10 years.

That’s a good start, but the state needs at least $6 billion more for those projects, according to the Fix Our Roads Coalition, which includes local politicians such as Indio Mayor Glenn Miller, Coachella Mayor Steve Hernandez, Palm Desert Councilwoman Jan Harnik and Indian Wells Councilman Doug Hanson.

The extra $6 billion could come from raising vehicle registration and licensing fees or from tapping into diesel excise taxes, the coalition suggested, adding the most important thing is that approved projects get underway quickly, rather than languish in disrepair.

Without successfully funded projects such as the I-10/Jefferson Street Interchange in Indio, which is expected to bring more than $1 billion a billion dollars worth of development and businesses into the Eastern Coachella Valley, Miller and Hernandez worry their cities could lose momentum in the region.

“They’re not gonna be putting up joint hospitals, restaurants because they’re not sure they’re going to have good access out here,” Miller said.

“We need to do something about it and we need to do something about it now.”

Anna Rumer covers the Eastern Coachella Valley for The Desert Sun. She can be reached at (760) 285-5490, [email protected] or on Twitter @AnnaRumer.