Legislation to speed interchanges survives state senate hearing

A bill Murrieta officials hope will cut the time required to gain permits to build local interchanges did not make it out of a state Senate committee Monday but did survive to be considered another day.

After hearing testimony from Murrieta Mayor Pro Tem Kelly Seyarto, the bill’s author; Sen. Dennis Hollingsworth; and other local officials, the Senate’s Environmental Quality Committee chose to put the message on hold rather than send it to defeat.

Hollingsworth’s proposal is a response to the city’s frustrations in building needed interchange improvements sooner rather than later because of considerable time required to gain Caltrans permits. A part of the overall process, which typically takes five years or more to navigate, is environmental review.

Hollingsworth first advanced his bill last year after the city’s frustrations boiled over while awaiting permits to do simple interim improvements to the Clinton Keith Road/I-215 interchange. He reintroduced it this legislative session after it was defeated in committee last year.

Testimony from Seyarto and Hollingsworth gained attention from the committee, whose chair put the bill on hold rather than sending it to defeat, giving the measure continued legislative life.

The senator and city officials now plan to work with the committee in trying to craft a narrower bill that would deal with Murrieta and Temecula projects rather than apply across the state.

The issue for Murrieta is one of time.

Seyarto told the committee that the city had funding in place to expand interchanges at both Clinton Keith and Los Alamos Roads on I-215 but is being held back by requirements to gain environmental clearance for rights-of-way that had this review when the facilities were first built. Hollingsworth’s bill would drop the review on the expansion of existing interchanges.

“The city’s a committed partner in the new regional habitat conservation plan,” Seyarto says, “so we’re not insensitive to environmental issues, but it seems unreasonable to have to do another review on interchanges that have already received clearances. Gaining the exemption provided in Senator Hollingsworth’s bill would probably save us about a year in the approval process.”

Seyarto also noted the region’s rapid growth and the impacts that places on cities like Murrieta, which is cut into three pieces by freeways.

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