2012-10-18 / Front Page
City finds new route to fund freeway expansion
Will lend $17.7 million in reserves so that work on 101/23 interchange can begin
Long-standing plans to expand the congested 101/23 freeway interchange could get underway next September if Thousand Oaks’ latest effort to find funding for the project proves successful, city offi cials said last week.
The Thousand Oaks City Council voted unanimously Oct. 9 to advance up to $17.7 million from its capital fund reserves to jump-start the estimated $42-million project, pending the granting of anticipated state and federal funds.
Even with the council’s approval of the loan, work can’t begin until the state agrees to the arrangement.
According to the city’s latest plan, Thousand Oaks would be repaid in 2016 by the state Transportation Improvement Program, which was adopted by the California Transportation Commission (CTC) to allocate transportation funds for state and regional highway and transit improvements.
“We’re loaning $17 million for (up to) four years,” Jay Spurgin, public works director, told the Acorn. “We don’t know when the payback schedule is. The intention is that all of that money is paid back by the state. In the end the city doesn’t pay anything.”
Darren Kettle, executive director of the Ventura County Transportation Commission, said the move would benefit the entire county.
“There are few jurisdictions in the state of California that can come in and make this level of commitment,” Kettle said at the meeting.
City and county officials have been trying unsuccessfully for years to obtain state and federal funds to pay for the interchange expansion, which would add a travel lane in each direction for drivers connecting to the 101 from the 23 Freeway or vice versa.
Thousand Oaks and VCTC tried twice before to obtain a $20-million federal Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant. Both applications were denied.
“We thought we had 50-50, so-so chances at it,” Spurgin said about the TIGER grants. “In each of those rounds of funding the federal highway administration had half a billion to give out. The requests of the applicants added up to over $10 billion each time.”
Mayor Jacqui Irwin asked at last week’s meeting about the likelihood of the state Transportation Improvement Program granting the city’s request for a repayment of the $17 million.
“At this point, we have a 95 percent chance of this working out,” Spurgin told the Acorn this week. “We’re very pleased that this can move forward. We’ve been trying to get this project funded for many years. To be at this place now is pretty exciting for me.”
In addition to relying on the state’s repayment of the loan, the city’s latest funding arrangement is contingent on the granting of up to $11.9 million from the Trade Corridors Improvement Fund (TCIF), which is funded by bonds sold as part of Proposition 1B, approved in 2006 and programmed through the CTC, Spurgin said.
Another $11.9 million would come from the federal Regional Surface Transportation Program.
The CTC is expected to approve TCIF money for the local freeway project next Wednesday in Sacramento, Spurgin said. The commission will then hold additional meetings to approve an agreement to repay the city’s loan, he said.
The available TCIF money comes from savings the state experienced on the 101 Freeway/ Rice Avenue interchange project in Oxnard, Spurgin said.
To qualify for the funds, a construction contract must be signed by Dec. 31, 2013, he said.
“We have money from the TCIF program that had already been approved for the (Oxnard project),” Spurgin said. “It’s up to us to decide where that money goes (and) award it to ourselves. The new project has to meet the eligibility criteria for that funding. . . . The CTC staff has agreed that it does. We’re over that hurdle.”
The city’s willingness to put up money from its capital reserves will allow the project to move forward until state funding becomes available, Spurgin said, providing a boost to the local economy through new jobs and avoiding potentially higher construction costs in the future.
“This is a great thing to be able to move forward at this time,” Spurgin said before the council’s vote last Tuesday. “We feel very optimistic this is a good solid funding option for us.”
Councilmember Andy Fox agreed.
“We’re fortunate to be in a position to be able to take money, $17 million, out of our capital reserves for a project of this type and this magnitude,” Fox said. “Here we are, ‘little Thousand Oaks,’advancing money that will be secured through the state for a major freeway interchange improvement. . . . This is the type of creative thinking that we ask our staff to do in order to get to ‘yes.’”
Councilmember Claudia Billde la Peña asked Spurgin at the Oct. 9 meeting what the worst-case scenario would be. He said that unless Thousand Oaks receives guarantees, no money will exchange hands.
“No city money would be spent on the project without those approvals in place,” Spurgin said.
If all goes as planned, a construction contract could be signed next summer and work could begin by September, Spurgin said.
The project, which also calls for the creation of sound walls on the north side of the freeway between Hampshire and Conejo School roads and on the south side between Manzanita Lane and Hampshire, would take around two years to complete, the public works director said.
“That’s very, very exciting,” Irwin said. “We’ve been waiting for a really long time. This is certainly a creative way to cobble everything together.”
Councilmember Joel Price noted that the proposed freeway improvements were supported by former council members Dennis Gillette, whom Price replaced in March, and Tom Glancy, who died in May: “I’m in awe that I get to sit here today and be part of taking this step to move it to fruition.”