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State OKs funding for 118 Freeway

June 08, 2007|Gregory W. Griggs | Times Staff Writer

Responding to an eleventh-hour appeal from Ventura County officials, the California Transportation Commission on Thursday agreed to allocate an additional $6 million to improve the 118 Freeway in eastern Simi Valley and pledged tens of millions more next year.

The state initially earmarked $50 million to widen the freeway by one lane in each direction between Tapo Canyon Road and the Los Angeles County line.

But because the project was delayed three years, the costs have increased significantly.

As a result, county officials said there was only enough money to widen the eastbound lanes.

Officials recently solicited the help of local legislators to try to persuade the state commission to earmark $32.7 million more to complete the project.

In a compromise deal finalized Thursday, the state commission agreed to set aside $6.28 million to add an offramp and onramp on the 118 at Rocky Peak Road from a fund created last November when California voters approved Proposition 1B -- a $19.9-billion statewide bond measure for infrastructure improvements.

The panel promised to give the widening project priority consideration during next year's regular funding cycle.

"In the best of all worlds, the $32 million would be here today, but it will not hamper us to have the money" confirmed next spring, said Ginger Gherardi, executive director of the Ventura County Transportation Commission.

Gherardi, who was at a rail conference in Toronto, flew to Sacramento to attend the first day of the state commission's two-day hearing, which ended Thursday, to thank the panel for its consideration.

"They've committed to work with us so the project is delivered on time and we can realize the cost saving," she said.

Local officials argued that it didn't make sense to halt work on the first phase of the widening project and that millions of dollars could be saved by approving more funding for the new westbound lane while the contractor was still on site.

Several legislators sent letters to the commission urging more money for the project, including state Sens. Sheila Kuehl, (D-Santa Monica) and Tom McClintock (R-Thousand Oaks); Assemblymen Cameron Smyth (R-Santa Clarita); and Pedro Nava (D-Santa Barbara), chairman of the Assembly Transportation Committee.

"I'm very pleased for the commuters in Ventura County, they need this kind of relief," Nava said Thursday. "The idea that we're putting some bond money and other resources to work to relieve the bottleneck is a step in the right direction."

Traffic on the stretch of the freeway has increased from 110,000 vehicles daily in 1998 to 117,000 today.

greg.griggs@latimes.com

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