Saturday, July 18, 2009

SBCAG approves shuffling of money between projects


July 18, 2009 7:13 AM

The Santa Barbara County Association of Governments voted to approve a complex exchange of funds between three transportation projects Thursday.

The projects include the widening of Highway 101 between Milpas Street and Hot Springs Road, the construction of a suicide barrier on the Cold Springs Bridge and the replacement of the Hollister/Ellwood interchange.

SBCAG approved the transfer because despite a delay in the provision of funds for the $12.5 million Hollister/Ellwood interchange, it did not want to delay the start of the project.

Money provided by the State Transportation Improvement Program (STIP) to fund the Hollister/Ellwod project, will not be available until Jan. 1 or later so funds from the State Highway Operation and Protection Program (SHOPP), which must be used within the state, will be applied to this project instead.

The Hollister/Ellwood interchange requires state and local funding sources.

STIP money totalling $1.848 million that was originally allocated for the Hollister/Ellwood project will instead be applied to a reserve for Hwy 101's widening between Milpas and Hot Springs. The reserve will be used only if the Highway 101 project's bond money expires past its gaurantee date of March 2010.

The suicide barrier on Cold Springs bridge will be completed using $1.5 million in federal stimulus money, originally intended as a reserve for the Highway101 project, which must be designated before Feb. 3.

SBCAG unanimously approved the fund transfers after members of the public expressed passionate opposition to the action. "All three of them are really important projects," said Santa Barbara County Supervisor Doreen Farr, whose 3rd District holds two of the three projects. "They're not only important for the safety of our residents, but for the safety of our safety personnel."

Opponents of the transfer disagree, insisting that the suicide barrier on Cold Springs bridge is unnecessary.

"Barriers have no scientific evidence of them working," said Santa Barbara resident Jarrell Jackman. "What happens is, if someone wants to commit suicide, they go somewhere else."

Ms. Farr disagrees.

"I was not convinced of their arguments," she said. "The number of suicides we've seen there has been accelerating."

The unanimity of SBCAG's vote led some opponents to question its member' commitment.

"All the people that are elected officials don't want to be the only ones against it," said Mr. Jackman. "People are afraid; you don't want to come down on the side of looking inhumane."

Long-time resident Kellam Deforest agrees, saying that the reason the vote was unanimous is "it's a feel-good project.'

Discussion of the transfer became so heated that barrier-opponent Marc McGinnes refused to stop speaking out of turn, leading to a brief recess to regain control of the meeting.

Other arguments in favor of the barrier include the safety of police officers, sent to the location to prevent suicides.

"We almost lost a sheriff's deputy," said Ms. Farr, referring to a video shown to SBCAG in which a sheriff's deputy almost fell off the bridge when trying to prevent a person from jumping.

Opponents to the barrier are adament that better training of public safety personnel will solve this danger.

"If they were properly trained," said Mr. Jackman, "they would know how to handle it."

Ms. Farr said authorities are already thoroughly trained.

"Our public safety personnel are trained to rescue people even when they don't want to be rescued," she said. "The problem is the location is so isolated it takes a long time to get out there."

Mr. Deforest said he thinks the risk could be lessened with other solutions.

"Deputies falling could be easily solved by having higher railing or wires strung from one end of the bridge to the other," he said.

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