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Williams highway access project closer to reality
Williams and Caltrans are moving forward with the Highway 20 access project, and while it is not a certainty, officials are feeling more comfortable.
"A little," quipped Mayor John Troughton.
The agencies are starting the environmental review process, after the highway was recently reclassified so a new access point would be permitted at the desired location.
The $3.5 million project includes improvements to Highway 20 and the Margurite extension north to the highway, and connecting about a quarter-mile east of Interstate 5.
City Administrator Chuck Bergson said the city is about $70,000 short to pay for the planning process. The city intends to talk with the county to see if there are any planning or transporation dollars available to fill that gap.
The goal of the project is to open up the Vann business park to direct traffic off Highway 20, particularly big rigs so the city can attract a truck stop or other commercial or industrial firms that would need truck access.
A truck stop, perhaps one similar to the Love's center in Corning which has a store and a restaurant, could generate as much as $1 million annually in sales tax, officials have said.
Love's has been shopping for a site. It did look at Williams, but the city's infrastructure was not advanced enough to locate there at the time, and was recently turned down for the site it wanted near Dunnigan.
The highway access is a big part of Williams' chances of getting a second shot.
John Holder, project manager for Caltrans, told the City Council on Wednesday night that he did not think there were any giant red flags that will hinder the environmental review.
"And there is a need for a break and access on Highway 20 before it reaches Husted Road," said Holder, noting the direction coming from the interstate.
He also said the project fits well with the traffic studies for the area.
Consultant Gary Price, who is spearheading the planning process for the city, believes the city will get away with doing a mitigated negative declaration rather than a full environmental impact report.
That would save the city thousands of dollars.
If all goes well, Price said the work could be completed by next summer. The worst case scenario, he said, would be a completion date of December 2013.
Going well does mean getting approval from a variety of other agencies, including the Army Corps of Engineers and the state Department of Fish & Game.
Once the environmental review is completed, the project shifts to the design phase. From there, the project would begin acquiring right-of-way, encroachment and other access permits, then it would go out for bids to do the work.
Troughton asked specifically if there was any one thing that could stop the project and force the city to start all over again, and Councilwoman Angela Plachek-Fulcher said absolutely.
"We are gambling, but I think it is a safe gamble," said Fulcher, has been involved in the process for more than two years.
"There are a lot of things that can happen," added Price, "but the positive thing is we have a partnership with Caltrans."
Holder said the key is getting through the environmental phase. After that, he added, the risk of the project falling apart is far lower.