More than at any time in its three-decade gestation, an interchange on Highway 20/49 at Dorsey Drive in Grass Valley is looking close to delivery.
Grass Valley leaders and longtime supporters are pushing for construction of a sixth interchange in town to start quickly, and Nevada County officials are watching with interest.
A freeway interchange at Dorsey would provide easier access to Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital, Nevada Union High School and Sierra College, supporters said. It also would provide access for the planned Loma Rica Ranch housing development east of town and open the area between Dorsey Drive and Idaho-Maryland Road to commercial development.
Ed Sylvester served on the Nevada County Transportation Commission in the 1980s, and on the California Transportation Commission in the 1990s. That whole time, he watched the project flounder as government entities pulled in different directions.
"Political interests were different at that time. There wasn't a clear idea as to who's project it was," Sylvester said. "The county wanted the city to take it over, and the city was in no position to move it forward. There was no agreement in terms of funding."
City officials recently have taken steps to move the project forward, including pledging more than $5 million in redevelopment funds to Dorsey at a City Council meeting this week, and taking steps to protect that money from state seizure to close California's budget shortfall.
"It's going to benefit the entire community," said Grass Valley Mayor Jan Arbuckle. "It can help to promote more businesses coming to Grass Valley. For me, though, access to the hospital is the No. 1 motivating factor."
The Nevada County Transportation Commission has secured a commitment from the state to fund $10.5 million of the project's estimated $18.5 million cost in 2012-2013. Officials with the commission and city hope to start the project sooner by completing the work in phases to take advantage of construction costs that have dropped due to the ongoing recession.
Urgency in building the project is key, Sylvester said.
"Now is the time to go after it," Sylvester said. "There seems to be an alignment we haven't seen in a long time, and that money could go away, so I think they should act quickly."
County Transportation Commission members are expected to discuss the project at a meeting starting at 9 a.m. Wednesday, Jan. 26, at
Grass Valley City Hall, 125 E. Main St., downtown.
Two of the committee's seven members are Nevada County Supervisors Nate Beason and Ed Scofield - and both support the city as the lead agency on the project, they said.
"I certainly do endorse the project conceptually," Scofield said. "I'm a little concerned that there are some questions that we should answer first, because it is moving ahead pretty quickly, but I'm certainly in favor of the project."
Scofield didn't specify what questions were left to be answered on the project. The transportation commission is looking into further funding for the project, Executive Director Dan Landon said recently.
Nevada County Supervisor Terry Lamphier, who's District 3 includes Grass Valley, has publicly and actively opposed the project in the past, but is now taking a listen-and-learn approach, he said.
Lamphier was recently appointed to an ad-hoc committee that focuses on the interchange. The committee is charged with advising the city and county on construction of the project.
"My position, as it stands right now, is to go forward and listen to all the available information," Lamphier said. "At first, it looked to me like the taxpayers would be subsidizing an interchange" for commuters from Loma Rica Ranch.
That development, originally praised for its green design, could promote living in Grass Valley while commuting outside of the area, made easy with a Dorsey interchange, Lamphier said. That misses the point of trying to reduce the carbon footprint of residents, as more commuting could offset benefits offered by clustered housing and green spaces, Lamphier said.
"It's only later that the argument for Dorsey seemed to revolve around access to the hospital," Lamphier said. "What I would like to see is a meaningful study on (whether) it would improve access to the hospital. I would need to see a compelling case to have the Dorsey interchange built.
"I also recognize that my district is Grass Valley, and the leaders of Grass Valley want the Dorsey interchange," Lamphier added. "I have to take it seriously."
Though the project has cleared environmental impact studies required by the state, Arbuckle expects further studies on the potential benefits of the project, specifically to the hospital, to come forward, she said.
To contact Staff Writer Kyle Magin, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call (530) 477-4239.