Bay Area commuters' laments about horrible traffic, echoed last week by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the state's most powerful politicians, prompted a major revision of a plan to spend the first chunk of the $20 billion transportation bond voters approved in November.

The Feb. 16 plan by California Transportation Commission staff that upset so many freeway denizens and their representatives raised the Bay Area's share of projects from $700 million to $1.1 billion while adding key

projects in urban areas around the state.

The staff was responding to complaints from Schwarzenegger and the state's biggest urban areas that projects to ease major commuter bottlenecks were being neglected in favor of non-congestion "connectivity" projects, most of them in rural areas.

The list still recommends $170 million for the Willits Bypass on U.S. Highway 101 in Mendocino County, which has been criticized as a waste of money voters intended to fix major congestion problems.

"I think it's a step in the right direction, there's no question of that," said Jim Wunderman, president of the Bay Area Council, a group of major business executives. A vocal proponent of focusing bond dollars on relieving congestion, Wunderman pledged to continue lobbying the commission before it votes on a final list Wednesday.

"We intend to continue to impress upon the commissioners to provide as much money as possible to Bay Area projects, to move some of the so-called connectivity projects to congestion projects," he said.


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The commission's new list bumped up its initial round of funding from $2.8 billion to include nearly all of the $4.5 billion that voters approved in November as part of the $20 billion Proposition 1B transportation bond.

The increase allows funding $95 million worth of carpool lanes on Interstate 880 in Oakland and San Leandro, $68 million for the Isabel Avenue Interchange on I-580 in Livermore and $60 million for auxiliary lanes on U.S. 101 in San Mateo County.

Bay Area officials are pleased with the increase, but still anxious to put more money into projects on I-580 and U.S. 101, like $180 million sought to help fix the Novato Narrows that didn't make the list. The commission is scheduled to vote on a final list Wednesday to meet the bond's March 1 deadline.

"We'd like to do as much as we can in the Bay Area," said the commission's executive director, John Barna. "At present, we just can't see how to get there."

Asked why his staff hadn't recommended any of the $102 million sought for westbound carpool lanes from Greenville Road in Livermore to Foothill Boulevard in Dublin, Barna said that even with $1.8 billion for Northern California, there just wasn't enough money to go around.

"In a perfect world, we would have gladly funded it," Barna said, "if we had an additional $101 million available to us."

But Bay Area leaders say there is plenty of money ripe for the plucking in Willits. Voters wanted to fight congestion, they argue, but rural bypasses won't help provide relief.

Alameda County Supervisor Scott Haggerty, who represents the county on the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, said the list gave his county "close to its fair share," especially with the addition of the Isabel Interchange, but "we certainly could use some more help for 580."

He credited an intensive lobbying effort by Bay Area leaders, along with other regions such as Los Angeles, whose elected leaders thronged a CTC hearing Feb. 20 to help win $730 million for a northbound carpool lane through the Sepulveda Pass.

"I think that the thing that did it was that nobody was happy with it," he said of the first list. "The only people who were happy were the people who put on the Reggae Festival in Willits."

While some parts of Los Angeles County and San Diego County gave up projects as CTC staff sought to fund others, rural areas were spared any cuts.

Another big winner was Contra Costa County, whose two most critical projects remained on the list.

"We got very good news today," said Assemblyman Guy Houston, R-San Ramon. A long-awaited widening of State Highway 4 in Antioch kept its recommended $85 million allotment. 

"The Caldecott Tunnel getting total funding, that's huge for the area; we've been talking about that for 10 years or more," Houston said of the $175 million to cap a $420 million fourth two-lane bore on State Highway 24 connecting Orinda and Oakland. "It's been a long time in coming and finally, we're getting some action."

Read Erik Nelson's Capricious Commuter blog at InsideBayArea.com.