As motorists make use of the long-awaited opening of two additional lanes on Highway 49 at the intersection of La Barr Meadows Road for the first time today, California transportation officials will appear before the a Nevada County committee to justify a request for funding to cover a $840,000 cost overrun.
The California Department of Transportation’s justification will come as the Nevada County Transportation Commission decides whether to transfer $420,000 of funding away from future projects to cover the over-budgeted expenses on the nearly $30 million project to widen Highway 49 south of Grass Valley.
If the commission chooses not to divert the state funding allocations, three major unimplemented portions of the project will remain that way. One of those three aspects is the adding of open-grade asphalt to the existing road surface.
Open-grade is porous, keeps water from pooling in the roadway and strengthens the road, said Tom Brannon, a Caltrans deputy district director, in a Thursday phone interview with The Union. Without the open-grade asphalt, the updated highway will not last as long and will be subject to more maintenance costs, Brannon said.
Around 5,200 people are estimated to drive along Highway 49 daily, according to Caltrans monitoring.
Other yet-to-be completed aspects of the Highway 49 widening include inlaid thermo-plastic road striping, which is more durable than traditionally painted road stripes, and the completion of certain drainage elements, such as updating culverts.
“Our view on the work we are proposing is we want to complete the entire job as it was additionally scoped,” Brannon said. “We need additional funds to do that.”
Some of the over-budget expenses were attributed to storm water discharge costs, drainage system modifications, increased traffic handling and crude oil price fluctuations. Brannon said he will elaborate on the circumstances of those expenses at today’s meeting.
However justified those expenses might be, Brannon said they should have been flagged and reported earlier.
“I deeply apologize to the commission and the community because that was our responsibility,” Brannon said.
Although initial warning signs of cost spikes were evident in the spring of 2012, Brannon said Caltrans’ focus on the summer construction kept the project supervisors from realizing the overage in expenses until September or October.
“The truth of the matter is that … in the spring there was still an entire construction season in front of us … and the natural focus of the staff was to get in and do work as safely and quickly as we can,” Brannon said. “It was only at the end of the construction season we could stop and catch our breath and see we had a problem.”
Brannon said county transportation staff was notified of anticipated cost overruns in November, but it wasn’t until January that the Nevada County Transportation Commission was informed, six years after the project’s initiation and only a handful of months before its expected completion.
“Once you are this far along, there is little choice remaining,” said Commissioner Sally Harris, also a member of the Nevada City Council, in a Tuesday interview with The Union.
To contact Staff Writer Christopher Rosacker, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4236