Caltrans approved over $31 million for Santa Barbara County last week as part of a statewide allocation to improve transportation and create new work opportunities.

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Caltrans is allocating funds to a project to widen the current four-lane Santa Maria River Bridge to six lanes. The bridge connects San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties.

Last Friday, the California Transportation Commission allocated over $668 million to fund 79 state transportation projects, including a $31.6 million allotment for Santa Barbara County. Local officials say the money, which is drawn from several state and federal transportation accounts as well as revenue from the 2006 passage of Proposition 1B, will pay for the reconstruction of the Santa Maria River Bridge that connects Santa Barbara County to San Luis Obispo County.

According to Gregg Hart, the public information coordinator for Santa Barbara County Association of Governments, the narrow, four-lane bridge will be given a much-needed makeover.

In 2008, Santa Barbara County voters approved Measure A, which authorized a half-cent sales tax increase to fund transportation projects. Remodeling the Santa Maria River Bridge was listed as one of the potential projects on the ballot.

“The lanes are very narrow and it can be unsettling to drive on when there are a lot of trucks and cars, so this project was definitely needed,” Hart said. “Also, since there is no space for bicycles, it makes a huge detour for someone who wants to continue cycling across the river.”

Now, Hart said, state money will make that a concrete reality; the extensive remodeling is expected to begin expanding the bridge to six lanes and creating pedestrian and bike paths in the fall. What’s more, Hart said, the money set aside for Santa Barbara County is just one of many state transportation projects Caltrans approved last week.

The $31.6 million Caltrans slated for Santa Barbara County comes from Proposition 1B, a $19.9 billion transportation bond approved by California voters in 2006. Proposition 1B will provide $152 million in funding while the remaining $516 million of the CTC’s $668 million allocation is from various state and federal transportation accounts, including a $2.9 million grant from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

In a statement to the press, Governor Schwarzenegger said the state’s renewed attention to transportation will improve the welfare of all Californians.

“My administration is investing billions to improve California’s transportation infrastructure and create jobs in every region of the state,” Governor Schwarzenegger said in a statement. “Today’s allocations will support the state’s economy and improve the quality of life for all Californians.”

According to Hart, Caltrans must give the project a final seal of approval in June before bids for construction can start. Hart said once the proposal is approved, it will constitute a “significant job creation component” for the county.

“Once the transportation committee gives its final approval on the project, it’s absolutely ready to go,” Hart said. “We can have folks start working this fall. That was definitely an important part of the project.”

Along with state funding, the Santa Barbara County Association of Governments will contribute $10.6 million to the project. The San Luis Obispo Council of Governments will also add $3.4 million to remodel the bridge.