FAIRFIELD — Changes to the “Buy America” rules in the 2012 federal transportation funding law could jeopardize an Interstates 80 and 680 interchange improvement project, according to the Solano Transportation Authority.
The project involves rebuilding the Green Valley interchange and improving the connection from westbound Interstate 80 to westbound Highway 12 in Jameson Canyon. It is the first of several phases designed to ease traffic congestion in the vicinity of the Interstates 80 and 680 interchange.
Construction costs for this upcoming phase total about $60 million. The California Transportation Commission is to vote May 7 on allocating as much as $24 million and work is to begin by year’s end. But deadlines associated with the state funding portion must be met and obstacles are arising.
Pacific Gas & Electric Co. must relocate utilities for the project. It has yet to sign a utility agreement, Solano Transportation Authority Executive Director Daryl Halls said Monday morning.
At issue is the Moving Head for Progress in the 21st Century Act. This 2012 federal transportation bill makes available $105 billion over the coming two years for the nation’s transportation infrastructure. It also enacts additional requirements for Buy America, the long-standing law requiring that materials associated with federally funded transportation projects be made in America.
These additions require that all contracts, including utility agreements, meet the Buy America requirements, Solano Transportation Authority Legislative Programming Manager Jayne Bauer wrote in a report.
PG&E officials said the utility will work to solve the potential problem. PG&E is a private natural gas and electricity utility that serves 15 million people in Northern and Central California, including in Solano County.
“We typically purchase most of our materials from U.S. manufacturing companies,” PG&E spokeswoman Brandi Ehlers said Monday evening. “For this particular project in Solano County, we’ll work to make sure we’re in compliance with the Buy America Act.”
Even if only state money was used on this upcoming interchange project, a problem would remain if PG&E did the work without signing the utility agreement, Halls said Monday morning. Then future federal dollars for future interchange improvements could be a risk, he said.
Projects in Alameda and Contra Costa counties could also be affected by the utilities issue, Halls said. The goal is to get a waiver from this particular Buy America requirement for this last wave of Proposition 1B projects, he said. Proposition 1B is the state transportation bond passed by voters in 2006.
“PG&E and utilities need to work this out with federal highways (officials),” Halls said. “Otherwise, future projects are going to be hamstrung with this as well.”
Another potential obstacle for the upcoming interchange project is getting a necessary permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. But Halls said work is being done to resolve the matter.
“That’s an issue we were anticipating,” Halls said, whereas the Buy America issue is a new concern.
The Solano Transportation Authority Board of Directors has taken various steps in recent months to get the project ready for construction. Among them is giving permission to use eminent domain to obtain right of way and approving the environmental impact report for the entire slate of planned Interstates 80 and 680 interchange projects.
The estimated cost for the first-phase project, including environmental work and design, is more than $100 million. A new and wider Green Valley interchange is to be built east of the present one. An elevated structure is to be built to better sort out traffic entering I-80 from Green Valley Road and traffic exiting I-80 for westbound Highway 12.
Reach Barry Eberling at 427-6929 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/beberlingdr.