Legislation expected to trigger the transfer of $91 million in state money to the future North County Corridor received no opposition from state lawmakers and is headed to Gov. Schwarzenegger.
In related news, September meetings scheduled to gather public comment on the expressway's environmental study have been postponed until October.
California Department of Transportation officials previously set aside the money for an Oakdale Bypass, an idea discarded in favor of the 26-mile North County Corridor. The expressway would connect Highway 99 at Salida to Highway 108 about six miles east of Oakdale, running north of Modesto and south of Riverbank and Oakdale.
Senate Bill 532, by Sen. Dave Cogdill, R-Modesto, makes Highway 108 eligible for "interregional improvements."
Caltrans officials have supported the legislation and are expected eventually to transfer the money, if the governor signs the bill.
Schwarzenegger normally does not signal support or opposition before legislation comes to his desk, spokesman Mike Naple said Friday.
Fallout from the state's abysmal money crisis mostly affects its general fund. The expressway money would come from a separate source called the State Transportation Improvement Program, controlled by Caltrans.
"In essence, it's already (reserved), and this is just redirecting it for another project," said Cogdill spokeswoman Sabrina Lockhart, who previously worked for Schwarzenegger.
The $91 million would apply to the North County Corridor's 17 miles east of McHenry Avenue. The west portion would not be an official state highway but would function similarly, with few stops.
"Reducing traffic congestion within our communities not only builds our region's economic power but also gives our motorists less time in the car and more time with their families," Cogdill said in a release. "The North County Corridor project will not only provide traffic relief, but also improve roadway safety and reduce air pollution in the valley."
Farmers and homeowners in the area being studied for the freeway have closely watched the route selection process in the past several months, often with vocal opposition. A June town hall meeting persuaded Caltrans officials to adjust boundaries, removing Crawford Road, Chenault Drive and Amy Avenue neighborhoods near McHenry from consideration.
Representatives of Stanislaus County, Modesto, Riverbank and Oakdale remain supportive of the effort, which could take a decade or two.
Environmental studies and SB 532 are on a fast track partly to secure the $91 million.
"Stanislaus County needs to ensure that our roadways meet current and future traffic demands as the needs of surrounding counties and our cities expand," said Stanislaus County Supervisor Jeff Grover. "I applaud Sen. Cogdill for his efforts to help secure this funding so that we can move forward with this project."
Caltrans will delay for one month town hall meetings initially scheduled after the expected release of environmental documents next month, spokeswoman Lisa Balcom said. The public forums, tentatively set in Oakdale, Del Rio or Modesto, likely won't be held until the second or third week of October, Balcom said in a voice message.
The Bee could not immediately determine the reason for the delay.
State senators May 18 voted 36-0 in favor of SB 532. Assembly members voted 76-0 Thursday, Cogdill's office said.
The bill tweaks language regarding Highway 132 near Modesto and relinquishes to Santa Monica and to Kingsburg portions of Highway 1 and Highway 201, respectively, within their city limits.
Bee staff writer Garth Stapley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2390.