Thursday, July 19, 2007

99 Work

One of our great highways will be getting some long needed work.

Daniel Weintraub: Prop. 1B money will soon transform Highway 99
By Daniel Weintraub -
Published 12:00 am PDT Thursday, July 19, 2007

U.S. Route 99, or just plain " 99" as it is known to locals up and down the Central Valley, is California's version of Route 66, the famous road that cut a swath through the American heartland and made its way into the culture and language of a generation.

Built in part along an old Indian migratory trail, Highway 99 was once the primary north-south route on the West Coast, at one point stretching from the Mexican border into Canada. In California, it was the road John Steinbeck made famous in Grapes of Wrath, his classic tale about the hard lives of the state's first migrant farm workers, Depression era refugees from the Dust Bowl.

Although in places the route passes through what are now major cities, including Sacramento and Fresno, elsewhere it still has the feel of an old country road. Drivers pass miles and miles of open farmland and orchards of peaches, plums and almonds. Barns that have seen better days dot the landscape on the other side of the shoulder.

The old highway could have died when fancy new Interstate 5 was built parallel to it on the other side of the valley. But instead of fading away the way Route 66 did when the interstates passed it by, 99 is fighting for its life. Already upgraded into a fully divided freeway along much of its path, the road is about to get its biggest-ever infusion of money and upgrades.

Proposition 1B, the $20 billion transportation bond California voters passed in November 2006, contained exactly one earmark setting aside some of its money for a specific project. That provision was a flat $1 billion for Highway 99.