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November 07, 2019

Road Funding Talks Reach Far-Flung Areas

      Cindy Hollenbeck traveled the more than 50 miles from Bombay Beach to El Centro on the evening of April 10 to lobby the county Public Works Department to add her community’s choppy streets to the list of those scheduled for repair.


     “We have a lot of disabled and elderly residents. They can’t hardly walk down the street without tripping (over damaged roads),” she told agency director John Gay. “We have potholes that take up the entire width of the road.”


     Hollenbeck, who is a member of the Community Special Districts board in the remote hamlet in the county’s northeastern end, invited Gay to visit, see the streets and address her board.


     Not committing to the trip, Gay did tell Hollenbeck county officials would consider adding Bombay Beach’s streets to its list of those on which the county intends to work in coming years.


     Such discourse was the intent of the April 10 workshop. The funding is not speculative—real money is consistently being made available through the state Road Repair and Accountability Act of 2017. Known as SB-1, it uses increases in fuel taxes and vehicle-registration fees to fund road improvements.


     With his public staff diligently taking notes, Gay facilitated discussion among the modest gathering. The county has oversight over projects in its unincorporated areas. Cities create their own lists to seek funding.


     David de la Garza, who lives in an unincorporated area northeast of El Centro, came to the meeting to talk about his street, the 2100 block of East Villa Lane.


     He said the road, which has not seen any work since the late 1980s, is “falling apart” and pressed Gay on how it can get on the list.


     “What happens if your road’s not on a list? That’s what we’re doing here tonight,” Gay said. “That’s why we need to hear from the public: to decide what’s important to you.”


     Gay explained that to date SB-1 is funding more than 120 approved projects in Imperial County representing 70 miles road. The list includes 42 rural roads, 14 of which are in the Gateways to the Americas business development adjacent to the Calexico East Port of Entry, 31 in Desert Shores in the northwestern  section of the county, and 27 in Heber.


     Work is also being done around three rural schools, on five bridges and on two projects to improve safety signage and roadway striping.


     When considering where to direct SB-1 funding, Gay said the county looks to road maintenance and rehabilitation projects, safety projects, railroad grade separations, complete street components (sidewalks, curbs, gutters), and traffic-control devices.


     The county has established five specific priorities, Gay explained. They are the streets in unincorporated towns such as Niland, Seeley, Ocotillo, Heber and Desert Shores; safety projects, including signage, striping and railroad crossings; agricultural farm roadways; main arterials and principal roadways; and bridges over canal drains and washes.


     For the current 2018-19 fiscal year that ends June 30, Gay said Public Works has a construction budget of more than $13 million. About $6 million is from SB-1, $5 million from federal highway users’ tax funds, and just under $2 million from the voter-approved sales tax, Measure D.


     Projected revenue for 2019-20 is expected to reach $19.1 million, with about $7.8 million from SB-1, $9.7 coming from the highway users’ tax, and $1.6 million from Measure D.


     The project list for 2019-20 is already being built and includes rollover SB-1 lists from both 2017-18 and 2018-19, Gay said. Additionally, the list will be populated using road-condition assessments, and public recommendations such as those from the Coalition of Labor, Agriculture and Business, the Farm Bureau, Velo Club (a local bicycling group), the California Highway Patrol, and rural school districts.


     Other means of building the list includes the county’s pavement management system, average daily traffic counts and community outreach events.


     Much of the work starts with wish lists, Gay said.


     “That’s what we’re proposing tonight: to work on what we’re calling a wish list,” he said during the workshop, adding that will form a capital list of projects.


     Addressing Hollenbeck’s concerns, Gay said, “Bombay Beach is a very good example of what we can do for $1 million.”


     “Tonight,” he told her, “is the first step. The second step could be dialoguing with your board.”

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