The California Department of Transportation is seeking $65 million in state funds to improve Highway 12 - one of the single largest sums of money sought for the deadly Delta road in recent memory, officials said this week.
Should the money be approved, $55 million would go toward the highway's narrow and unforgiving Bouldin Island stretch.
The shoulders on that two-mile section, just west of Terminous, would be widened to 8 feet and the road would be reconstructed, said Will Ridder, a senior regional planner for the San Joaquin Council of Governments, the county's regional transportation planning agency.
"I think it's a very positive step … It means that Caltrans has been listening to the concerns raised by not just those in local office, but the people," said San Joaquin County Supervisor Ken Vogel, who represents the Lodi area.
Vogel added that the money could be a "huge step" for the highway, and provide a foundation for eventually widening it from two to four lanes.
No extra lanes would be built with the money, but expanding the shoulders is seen as a necessary step to doing so.
Lodi City Councilman Larry Hansen announced Caltrans' actions at Wednesday night's council meeting.
"Things are really starting to look better for Highway 12," he told his fellow council members and a large audience.
He called recent action on the highway - from making it a double fine zone, to Caltrans seeking the new funds - "major and significant improvements that weren't on the radar six months ago."
Hansen sits on the regional transportation board.
• Additional law enforcement patrols will begin in March, the result of new state grants.
• A new Highway 12 corridor advisory committee has been proposed. It would include elected leaders from San Joaquin, Sacramento and Solano counties.
• Caltrans' construction plans this year call for a full stoplight at Davis Road and Highway 12, and a flashing light at DeVries Road and the highway. Construction on the Davis Road light is set to start as early as Monday.
• San Joaquin County Council of Governments set aside an additional $6 million in January toward improvement work along San Joaquin County's stretch of the highway. That money will go toward intersection improvements at Guard, Peatland and Corriea roads, all west of Interstate 5. SJCOG now has a total of $27 million earmarked for improvements, much of it marked for overhauling the Tower Park Marina intersection with the highway.
Source: Larry Hansen, Lodi City Councilman and San Joaquin Council of Governments board member,
Local, regional and state leaders have stepped up to help the highway in recent months. Their action followed the deaths of 10 people between Lodi and Fairfield on the highway in 2007, and two emotionally charged Lodi town hall meetings about the highway.
Just the prospect of getting that money pleased one local very familiar with the highway's carnage.
Terry "T.C." Morgan, of Lodi, spent three years as a tow truck driver responding to numerous fatal wrecks on Highway 12. His company, in fact, was the designated tower for deadly crashes on the road, he said.
"Every month or so, I was going out for a fatal," he added.
Morgan said he's thrilled of the chance at getting $65 million for improvements.
"Absolutely - I'm a local kid, and that's a lot of money," said Morgan, who now manages Martini's Bait and Tackle at Highway 12 and DeVries Road. "That's very good to hear."
Widening the shoulders on Bouldin Island will be significant for commuters and law enforcement. They're so narrow now that patrol officers won't pull people over on that stretch.
Hansen said a Caltrans representative told regional transportation leaders late last month about the plans to pursue new state funds.
There's no guarantee Caltrans will get the $65 million, because state transportation dollars are so competitive, Hansen noted.
A spokeswoman for Caltrans did not immediately have information on the application.
The California Transportation Commission - a nine-member panel appointed by the governor - will make the final call on the funds later this year.
From there, the project would move to a design and environmental review phase, Ridder said. It's not clear when construction would start.