Effort to find tunnel money hits a wall

Half Moon Bay Review, April 23, 1997

By Eric Rice

Tunnel planners received disconcerting news last week that emergency relief funds being sought to build a tunnel at Devil's Slide are unlikely to materialize.

Environmentalist Lennie Roberts said a request for additional emergency relief funding from the 1995 storms has not been included in the Clinton Administration's budget. Roberts, who met with staffers of Rep. Tom Lantos, D-San Mateo, and California Sen. Barbara Boxer early last week in Washington, D.C., reported the development at a meeting of officials working on the tunnel held Wednesday in Redwood City.

Attempts to transfer $52 million in previously allocated funds for an inland bypass at Devil's Slide to the tunnel have also run into a wall.

Roberts said she was told that the Administration did not include the request for supplemental emergency funding because Highway 1 did not slip this year. Tunnel proponents had hoped that additional tunnel construction money might be retroactively awarded as relief for the 1995 storms, which closed Highway 1 for five months. But as the President's Emergency Relief Request stands, it would only fund disasters that occurred this year.

"The fact that it's not included in the Emergency Relief (budget) is definitely not good news," said Dennis Bosler, tunnel project manager for the California Department of Transportation.

Meanwhile, the status of $52 million in emergency funding appropriated by Congress more than a decade ago for a bypass but never spent remains uncertain.

According to a spokesman for Lantos, who has been spearheading efforts to reassign the money from the defunct bypass to a tunnel, the Congressional Budget Office does not recognize prior funding commitments. Transfer of the $52 million to a tunnel this year could require an equal reduction elsewhere in the Administration's budget.

"It's an uphill struggle," said Dr. Bob King, Lantos' chief of staff, confirming what Lantos repeatedly stressed last fall would be the case. "The atmosphere is very tight up here to do anything." But, King added, "We're trying. That's the top priority in this office."

According to Roberts, the bill Boxer has introduced in the Senate to allow the $52 million to be transferred may be amended to force the Congressional Budget Office to recognize it as a prior commitment.

The work being done on the local level in support of the tunnel is important, county Supervisor Ruben Barrales noted, but "if we don't have the money to fund it, it's all in vain."

Along those lines, proponents are still hopeful for federal funding beyond the $52 million from a reauthorization of the Intermodal Surface Transportation Enhancement Act (ISTEA). Another source of state funding is San Mateo County's share of traffic improvement funds, but the priorities for that money have already been set for the next seven years. Some of the projects in that schedule would have to wait if the tunnel is designated a top priority.

Half Moon Bay Review