Land for the Los Banos bypass is closer to being acquired, but it will be nearly 15 years before construction is likely to start.
The Merced County Association of Governments on July 18 voted to apply an additional $300,000 toward purchasing land for the Highway 152 bypass, bringing the total to $2.8 million.
The money will pay for three parcels on the eastern end of the proposed project near the San Luis Canal and Santa Fe Grade. The need for the additional money is because of a July 5 appraisal that priced one property above the amount previously allocated.
MCAG plans to continue to pursue the property.
"We will proceed with negotiations," said Marjie Kirn, MCAG executive director. "It's really up to the property owner how long it takes."
After the land is purchased, she said, the project will likely be dormant because there is no money for construction. She said it would take 10 years for the Regional Improvement Program, which holds money MCAG collects through a gas tax, to build up enough funds for construction. She said it would be four years more before construction plans could get approval, meaning the earliest that work could begin on the bypass would be 2027.
Mayor Mike Villalta, who would answer Enterprise questions only through email, said he's encouraged that the project is moving forward.
"I am happy to see that the MCAG board has continued to support the initial purchase of the Los Banos bypass land," he wrote. "It is my hope that once the property has been acquired, we will be able to move on to another phase of the project."
The Los Banos Highway 152 bypass has been in planning stages since 1962. City officials continue to pursue the project because the California Department of Transportation has rated Highway 152 as an F on an A through F grading scale for traffic flow.
Some residents and business owners fear that a bypass will harm businesses that depend on highway traffic for their main customer base.
Los Banos Enterprise reporter Corey Pride can be reached at (209) 388-6563 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.