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Calexico residents grill Department of Transportation officials about highways during 20-year plan workshop

May 31, 2002|By AARON CLAVERIE

Staff Writer

CALEXICO — Around 20 Calexicans peppered California Department of Transportation officials with questions about Highway 7, Highway 98 and Imperial Avenue during a public workshop here Thursday on the county's 20-year transportation plan.

The short answer? Caltrans has the $63 million it needs to start construction on Highway 7 next year. Highway 98 will be widened to six lanes from Highway 7 to Cole Road around the same time.

Beyond the completion of those two projects sometime in 2005, everything else is speculative.

Caltrans conducted similar workshops in Brawley and El Centro earlier this week to explain transportation projects affecting those areas. Caltrans held the workshops to get public input on the county's 20-year transportation plan.

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After collecting comments, Caltrans will submit a revised plan to the Imperial Valley Association of Governments, which will then ship it to the Los Angeles-based Southern California Association of Governments. After all the agencies are finished perusing and tweaking the plan, a final plan will be released.

Caltrans planner Mark Baza said the final plan will determine which transportation projects get funded first. At Thursday's workshop, Baza was able to pass on some good news.

"(Residents) were in favor of what we've identified as the near term for Calexico," Baza said.

Calexico is first on the list for two major projects, Highway 7 construction and improvements to Highway 98. The other project is the Brawley bypass.

As for the "near mid-term projects" in South County, Baza said Calexico is definitely a priority but funding could shift to other projects if developers build an airport or some other big project in the Imperial Valley that changes priorities.

As for some of the speculative plans, Caltrans has studied how it could expand the capacity of Emerson Road or Cesar Chavez Avenue to alleviate traffic on Imperial Avenue. There is even talk of opening the old commercial port of entry abutting the downtown port to help speed passage into Mexico. That commercial port was closed when the Calexico East Port of Entry opened.

One of the interesting aspects of the Caltrans' planning process is how the department is dealing with Cole Road and Highway 98. According to Baza, the Highway will be widened to six lanes. After it is widened, Caltrans will decide what to do with the traffic.

Baza said Highway 98 could take over Cole Road or be run up north to Jasper Road so highway traffic doesn't run by schools. Depending on the plan that is finalized, the Highway 98 project could cost $52.5 million.

>> Staff Writer Aaron Claverie can be reached at 337-3419 or aclaverie@aol.com

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