Federal funding for a tunnel at Devil's Slide won a critical test last week when the House Appropriations Committee voted to include $52 million for Highway 1 repairs in a disaster relief bill.
"This is a great victory in our effort to see the tunnel built around the dangerous section of the coast highway at Devil's Slide," said Rep. Tom Lantos, D-San Mateo, who has made securing funding for the tunnel his office's top priority for the year.
"I lobbied my Republican and Democratic colleagues very hard," Lantos added, "and am delighted that they saw the fairness of our point of view. Now that the voters of San Mateo County have so overwhelmingly endorsed the tunnel option, the only reasonable course is to preserve the funds that were available for the bypass and make them available for the tunnel."
The committee's action Thursday is just the first step, however, cautioned Dr. Bob King, Lantos' chief of staff. The full House of Representatives is set to vote on the appropriation today, April 30, or tomorrow, he said. If it passes, it will go to a Senate committee, then the full Senate, and then to the President's desk.
Thirteen years ago, Lantos secured $52 million in emergency relief funding to build the inland bypass. With the passage of Measure T last fall forbidding the bypass and mandating the construction of a tunnel or the repair of the existing Highway 1 route, Lantos and other lawmakers have been trying to redirect the money.
King said the way congressional accounting and appropriations works, the $52 million included in the current bill is not the same money that was allocated before. Instead, it is a new appropriation of funds from a pot of emergency relief money set aside to be doled out to states that have been left "on the short end of the stick." Just last week the prospects for securing funding were uncertain.
To add the $52 million to the disaster relief bill, Lantos successfully lobbied support from the Republican chairman of the Appropriations Committee and the ranking Democrat. Since he is not on the committee himself, Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, introduced the amendment for Lantos. It was then accepted on a voice vote, King said.
"It's the key first step," he said. "Once you've made it through that first step, it's very encouraging."
The $52 million would constitute only partial funding of the project, however, which has been estimated to cost anywhere from $83 million to $148 million. The additional money has yet to be authorized.