11:28 PM PDT on Monday, August 8, 2011

By DUG BEGLEY
The Press-Enterprise

Construction of car pool lanes along Highway 91 in Riverside and a major railroad overpass in Colton will begin by early next year, provided state officials approve a new round of money for transportation projects.

The California Transportation Commission is expected Wednesday to approve $1.1 billion in state bond spending, freeing up money for projects that have been shelved until the state could contribute its share.

Two of the largest projects waiting on state funding are in the Inland area. Officials in Riverside County have waited three months for $157.2 million in state bond funds for a project to add a car pool lane in each direction along Highway 91 from Adams Street to the 60/91/215 interchange.

San Bernardino County officials and Union Pacific Railroad plan to start construction of a railroad overpass to separate the UP and BNSF Railway tracks where they cross in Colton. The $202 million project could receive $91 million in bonds funds, if state transportation commissioners approve the spending plan.

Without the money, both projects risked losing other sources of funds, or blowing key deadlines, officials said.

“We’ve made a commitment to deliver this project and the longer it is delayed the longer we could be out to construction,” said Anne Mayer, executive director of the Riverside County Transportation Commission.

Caltrans officials recommended the projects for funding, after calculating that the bond program has enough money on hand to meet its obligations. Officials have raised $4.2 billion for the Prop. 1B bond program that voters approved in 2006, but have spent $2.2 billion. Large cash reserves are common to make sure officials have enough money to complete the projects.

“All of that money, although it hasn’t been spent yet, is spoken for,” said Caltrans spokesman Matt Rocco.

Releasing $1.1 billion to keep the projects on track is possible, Caltrans officials said in a report to the transportation commission. But the report also said it could complicate and potentially delay future projects, which could sit on the shelf waiting for their money much like the current ones have.

California Treasurer Bill Lockyer canceled the state’s spring bond sale because of the calamitous budget situation. That caused state transportation officials to shelve many projects because they couldn’t commit the money.

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