"Corruptus in Extremis" - Everyone wants to latch on to the Delta tunnel project and suck on that sweet, sweet tax money.
- As usual, costs are going crazy so unions and business can get their share in the killing of the Delta.
Caltrans spokesman Dennis Keaton said feasibility studies indicate the Highway 160 realignments would cost $65 million to $75 million. Adding turn lanes to highways 4 and 12 is estimated to cost $199 million. These estimates do not include land acquisition and environmental mitigation.
Jeffrey Michael, an economist at University of the Pacific, cited the proposed roadwork as another example of costs that have not been figured into the final price tag for the tunnel project, at least in the documents released to the public reports the Sacramento Bee.
The leading example, Michael said, is debt service on the bonds issued to build the project. He estimates this at $1.1 billion annually for decades – enough to triple the ultimate cost of the project.
Another is natural gas wells. The Delta is a productive natural gas region strewn with wells, many of which are active and some that are not.
Any well bore in the path of the tunnels is not only a physical obstacle to construction but a potential safety hazard.
Documents obtained by The Bee show the state's intent is to simply buy out and cap any well that turns out to be in the way. This would involve negotiating with landowners and gas companies over wells that, in some cases, produce gas worth millions of dollars annually.
"There are a host of big questions, and they shouldn't avoid them until this point in the process," Michael said. "They are always kicked down the road because we don't have an exact project design yet and other sorts of statements. I don't think those are good excuses."
"In principal, we want to minimize the impact to the roadways, and keep the roadway so that it provides the same function as it did before," said Terry Erlewine, general manager of the State Water Contractors, a statewide association whose member utilities are among those that would pay the bills.
Scenic status an issueThe planning documents, which include draft construction schedules, indicate Highway 160 would be moved off the levee during the first two to three years of construction. This phase includes raising the levee next to each intake to protect it from floods and sea level rise, building fish screens up to 2,400 feet long in the river, and water intake structures. Each highway detour would be about a mile long.
After this initial construction period, the highway would be moved back onto the new levee, and traffic would pass through the intake site while construction continues on other facilities, such as pumps, pipelines and sediment collection ponds. Finishing each intake is estimated to take six years.
Construction would result in a dramatic increase in heavy truck trips on the highway to transport concrete, dirt for levee construction, steel beams and pumping equipment on roads already in poor condition from present traffic loads.
Like High Speed Rail, the Delta Tunnel is a giant
payoff to unions and businessmen who fund the
political hack class of California.
This worries farmers like Daniel Wilson, who relies on Highway 160 to get his cherries, pears and corn from field to packing shed and then to market. Wilson opposes the tunneling project, in part, because some of its facilities would supplant farmland he owns.
"We run a trucking company during our harvest season," Wilson said. "I can't see anything but total disruption of that for 10 to 15 years. It's hard to imagine that you wouldn't destroy the whole road system."
When traffic is returned on top of the rebuilt levee segments, the retooled highway path would be 150 to 200 feet farther from the river, and as much as 20 feet higher, according to the documents.
It is unclear whether a river view would remain for travelers, or whether the new water intakes would be compatible with a scenic highway designation.
Highway 160 was named a state scenic highway in 1969 by virtue of its "historic Delta agricultural areas and small towns along the Sacramento River," according to the Caltrans roster of scenic routes.
State law does not forbid development along scenic highways. But the designation does require preservation of scenic views and exclusion of incompatible land uses, such as gravel pits, concrete plants and billboards.
"It's a feather in your cap, locally, to be able to say you've got a very scenic road in your county," said Dennis Cadd, Caltrans coordinator of the scenic highway program. "So anything that's out of character with those natural features would be considered an intrusion to the scenic resources of that corridor."
Caltrans has authority under state law to revoke a scenic highway designation. But this would be a controversial move and has never been done, Cadd said.
Erlewine said the water contractors would seek to minimize harm to the scenic qualities of the area.
"In general, we would want to maintain the character as much as possible," he said. "That's one of the reasons we ended up going to the tunnel originally is to try to minimize visual impacts and land impacts from the project."
|California Highway 160 through the Delta is a beautiful drive.|