Blind-sided: Highway 49 project $840K over budget |

Blind-sided: Highway 49 project $840K over budget

The Union archives: Photo by Annita Kasparian

With the majority of the work complete on the nearly $30 million project to widen Highway 49 south of Grass Valley at the intersection of La Barr Meadows Road, the California agency overseeing its construction has blind-sided local officials with a request for an added $840,000 to cover over-budgeted expenses.

If the Nevada County Transportation Commission approves the use of the supplemental funding, it would be at the expense of future transportation projects in the county, according to the California Department of Transportation. But if the commission does not want those funds allocated, the scope of the highway-widening project will be reduced.

“It’s hard to get this kind of information this late in the project,” said Dan Landon, executive director of the transportation commission.

The request from local California Department of Transportation came without warning at the county commission’s Jan. 16 meeting for the project that is supposed to be completed this summer, six years after its initiation. A special meeting of the county’s transportation commission is slated to discuss the issue 9 a.m. Friday at the Nevada County Board of Supervisors chambers in Nevada City

“I would like to see a process where we are better informed.”
— Sally Harris
Nevada City councilwoman

“It was complete surprise,” said Commissioner Sally Harris, also a Nevada City councilwoman.

Tom Brannon, a Caltrans deputy district director, apologized to the Nevada County Transportation Commission at the January meeting, saying that Caltrans should have followed the expenditures through construction far more closely than it did, according to the commission’s draft minutes.

Some of the over-budget expenses were attributed to storm water discharge costs, drainage system modifications, increased traffic handling and crude oil price fluctuations, according to a staff report for the commission’s special Friday meeting. The red flag, Brannon said, was that cash flow going out was higher than it should have been, according to the meeting’s draft minutes.

Caltrans should have been making projections and coming to the county commission months ago to tell it there is a situation that would probably need additional funds to complete all the scope of the work, Brannon told the commission.

“I would like to see a process where we are better informed,” Harris said.

Should the commission choose not push for the supplemental funds, the project will be stabilized, and certain yet-to-be completed features will not be implemented, such as rubberized open-graded asphalt, minor drainage work and thermoplastic striping and markings. Those finishing touches would give the road and its features longevity, according to a report for the commission.

While the staff report describes this alternative as not recommended, staff did not make an overall recommendation to the commission.

“Staff doesn’t have a recommendation,” Landon said. “We’re basically giving them the information and letting the commission make their own decision.”

The widening project has been funded primarily by a mixture of state, local and federal sources, such as stimulus funds. Some of those local funds include the county’s shares of State Transportation Improvement funds.

Should the commission choose to direct Caltrans to lobby the state transportation commission to cover over-budget expenses, half the funds would come from the county’s future improvement fund shares, Landon said.

“Even if the commission decided they want the project to go forward, there is no certainty at state level it will be approved,” Harris said.

More than 7,400 people are estimated to drive along Highway 49 daily, heading to work in Placer, Sacramento and other nearby counties. The project to make the La Barr Meadows intersection safer reached a milestone in November when it flipped the switch on a traffic light there, which has since periodically caused traffic to congest and slow during evening rush hour.

In May 2012, Caltrans officials told The Union the project would be completed by November and that it was under budget. The project’s completion was subsequently delayed until Summer 2013.

Future county projects slated for funding include $1.3 million to widen Highway 89 southwest of downtown Truckee and $3.6 million toward the Dorsey Interchange project in Grass Valley.

For information, visit the Nevada County Transportation Commission’s website at

To contact Staff Writer Christopher Rosacker, e-mail or call 530-477-4236.

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