IT'S SHOVEL ready. So let's start shoveling.

Contractors on Friday will break ground on a fourth bore through the Berkeley hills linking Oakland and Orinda that three years from now will greatly ease the reverse-commute congestion at the Caldecott Tunnel.

When the new bore is complete, the Highway 24 tunnel complex will include four lanes in each direction. No longer will drivers have to guess whether one or two bores will be open when they reach the top of the hill. No longer will they have to slog through congestion created by a merge of four lanes into two.

The 3,389-foot bore has been discussed for more than a decade, and voters have given their financial endorsement to the $420 million project. In 2003, Bay Area voters supported the project by using $50 million of bridge toll money. In 2004, Contra Costa voters backed a sales tax increase that provided $123 million. And, in 2006, voters approved transportation bonds that were to include money for the project, but a state credit meltdown blocked the bond sales.

The project would have stagnated if not for $197 million of federal economic stimulus funds allocated last year. This is exactly the sort of project that recovery money should go toward. It's a one-time expenditure that will provide permanent, long-term benefits. All the planning is done and workers are ready to start digging.


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We've waited a long time for the start of this construction. The technology has come a long way since the first and second bores opened in 1937 and the third bore started carrying traffic in 1964. The new tunnel will be dug from both sides simultaneously using giant excavation machines.

The fourth bore is not a panacea. It will not end the backups for commuters from Contra Costa heading west into Alameda County in the morning or east at night. For those drivers, the best solution will remain altering work schedules, if possible, to avoid the peak hours or taking BART to commute through the hills.

But the new tunnel should ease the commute for Alameda County drivers heading to and from work in Contra Costa. And, on nights and weekends, drivers on both sides of the hills should be able to reach their destinations without the unpredictable traffic chokepoints.

Let the work begin.

Correction

An editorial in Tuesday editions incorrectly stated the magnitude of cuts that are proposed in Gov. Schwarzenegger's budget. The cut for schools would be $800 million, not $800 billion.