The Bridge to Nowhere is Here


Posted by Shawn & Annette in Opinion, Outdoors, Tuolumne County, Twain Harte News on November 2, 2013

Congratulations, Tuolumnites, the bypass extension is finally opening!

For the low, low cost of a mere $36 million per mile, visitors to Tuolumne County can now bypass even more of our local businesses at our expense, and even save almost a whole minute of drive time while doing so!

No, really.

SR 108 Bypass, Stage 2

SR 108 Bypass, Stage 2

The extension from Peaceful Oak Road to Via Este Road replaces a 1.5 mile 2-lane stretch of road to a 1.13 mile 2-lane road with a stoplight. It does so partially by altering the flow of traffic that would otherwise drive through East Sonora. The California Department of Transportation reports:

This $54 million project will construct a two-lane expressway on a new alignment from Peaceful Oak Road to Via Este Road.  The highway is a vital artery in the Tuolumne County roadway network connecting various Sierra and Mother Lode communities, as well as providing for recreational traffic.  This project received $14.53 million from Proposition 1B, the $19.9 billion transportation bond approved by voters in 2006.

Construction took place April 19, 2012 and was remarkably completed eight months prior to the planned completion date in July of 2014. It’s been 80 weeks – or about a year and a half, where travel between Twain Harte and Sonora (or the valley, or anywhere else West of Via Este Road) has been congested, stalled or suffering delays sometimes up to an hour. But don’t worry, soon this will all be a thing of the past and the minute we’ll save will surely make up for the $54 million price tag.

Personally, I estimate I’ve lost somewhere in the neighborhood of 30 hours to delays over the last year and a half. If my driving routines stay the same, it would only take about 12 years to make that time back with the minute I would save on the “Stage 2” bypass. Well, almost. Unfortunately, almost all of my driving is local – between Twain Harte and East Sonora – and the new stoplight is probably going to add even more time to my commute. Sigh. Tested that this evening, and yep, it’s going to add about 30 seconds to my trip.

Even if we dismiss the fact that this is actually going to cost many of us locals even more time, I think it says a lot that the State of California has only devoted 0.07% of the Prop 1B budget to construction in Tuolumne County, and that the project it’s funding is literally helping tourists to avoid spending money within our economy. We’re actually paying to have our tourism income reduced, and the wise and benevolent State is doing their part, too.

Unfortunately, I just don’t think anyone is thinking these projects through. A government project with unintended consequences!?!? You don’t say! The DOT again:

The project will ease congestion, improve mobility, decrease travel times, improve operations, and enhance safety for both commute and recreational traffic in Tuolumne County.

“Mobility” is an interesting term, but I don’t see how just another 2-lane road will make anything any different. We already had this. Widening the road to add additional lanes would have been a better move.

It’ll only decrease travel as long as neither point A or point B are in Sonora or East Sonora. If they are, expect delays.

Surely it’s not “improving operations” or “enhancing safety” to put a stoplight at the top of a grade that gets snow. I went through several years of accident reports and can’t find a single accident along this stretch of highway. Who wants to bet how long before we have one on the new bypass? It’ll be right at the light, probably around Thanksgiving. Watch for it.