Infrastructure bill tofund transit, traffic flow improvements on Central Coast

California continues to have the highest gas prices in the nation by more than 40 cents a gallon, according to AAA data.

But with a lack of accessible public transportation on the Central Coast, driving is many residents’ only option to go where buses and bikes can’t take them.

With new money coming down the pipe from the federal Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the Central Coast will soon be able to fund key transportation projects that will relieve traffic congestion, give commuters more options, and mitigate emissions.

U.S. Rep. Salud Carbajal (D-Santa Barbara) announced April 22 that the bill’s funds were recently appropriated, and California is slated to receive more than $550 million. The funds can be used for public transit projects, electric vehicle charging infrastructure, traffic flow improvements, congestion management, pedestrian and cycle trails, and more, Carbajal told New Times.

“California is ahead of the curve and ready to hit the ground running,” Carbajal said. “SLOCOG [San Luis Obispo Council of Governments] and SBCAG [Santa Barbara County Association of Governments] are the ones that already have most of these plans and projects in place.”

Ed Waage, SLOCOG president and Pismo Beach mayor, said the organization’s primary focus is relieving congestion on Highway 101 near Pismo Beach. He also said actually getting federal money in hand requires a lot of planning for organizations like SLOCOG and SBCAG. Projects must fit certain requirements laid out by the government.

“You have to have accountability. There are significant efforts that all the councils of government type agencies have to go through in order to be able to qualify for the grants,” Waage said. “We have a regional transportation plan that we have to update and show how everything fits moving forward.”

With the price of gas on everyone’s mind right now, plus the ever-looming climate crisis, Carbajal said the Central Coast needs to not only address its traffic congestion issues, but also give commuters other options that don’t involve a stop at the gas pump.

“We need to build out the electric vehicle charging infrastructure,” Carbajal said. “That’s going to be huge. … And the more you do public transit, the less congestion you’re going to have. I think this [funding] goes a long way [to reduce] so many vehicle trips that we Californians are used to taking, and focusing more on public transit.” 

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