Transportation Agency Takes First Steps Toward Tolling Highway 156
June 27, 2012
Highway engineers, county transportation planners and hospitality industry leaders have long been in agreement that Highway 156 is in need of major upgrades.
The two-lane road that forms the Peninsula's only narrow artery to Highway 1 northbound is often clogged on Sunday evenings as tourists depart en masse.
The proposed fixes—transforming the country road into a four-lane highway, trading traffic lights for on and off ramps, redoing the confusing set of bridges that merge with Highway 101 and building a frontage road for local traffic from Castroville to Prunedale—carry a hefty $255 million price tag.
The Transportation Agency for Monterey County's board voted Wednesday to proceed with a financing study to examine tolling strategies to fund the project. If the proposal goes forward, it would make 156 Monterey County's first toll road.
The board authorized up to $70,000 on a study to look at toll locations, rates, locals discounts or exemptions, and other variables that could impact the availability of funding. Once the California Department of Transportation signs off, TAMC can select a consultant to crunch the numbers and expects a tolling analysis within about a month.
"If we can make tolling work, we have a big win," says TAMC Executive Director Debbie Hale. The soonest CalTrans money could be made available is four years from now, Hale says. She likens a tolling system to a mortgage on a house.
Sharon Gavin, community outreach coordinator for TAMC, has been meeting with neighborhood groups to field concerns about the construction and the prospective tolls. She cautions critics to slow down and wait for the results of the study, noting it's not yet a done deal: "The question is, is [tolling] really going to pencil out?" she says.