Elected officials from all eight San Joaquin Valley counties met with the White House administration and federal legislators during the annual “Valley Voice” advocacy trip to Washington D.C. last week.
The delegation advocated for major federal investments to Valley highway systems, increased funding for air quality initiatives, passenger rail improvements and additional policy requests.
Valley Voice 2022 included meetings with the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs, Senators Dianne Feinstein and Alex Padilla, Congressmen Tom McClintock, Jim Costa, Josh Harder, Jerry McNerney, the Department of Transportation, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Interior Bureau of Reclamation.
Among the delegates attending was Stanislaus County Supervisor Vito Chiesa, and representatives from Merced County, Madera County, Tulare County, Kings County, City of Kerman, Kern Council of Governments, Fresno Council of Governments and the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District.
“We want our fair share; that’s what we’re fighting for,” said Chiesa.
Chiesa said that this year there is so much more money available to fund infrastructure projects through the American Rescue Plan Act (a COVID-19 stimulus package) and the Inflation Reduction Act.
“There’s just a lot of exciting opportunities,” said Chiesa, who was optimistic about getting funding for regional water projects and expanding Highway 99 throughout the Valley, as well as rail projects like the ACE train expansion into Turlock.
The Valley Voice delegation urged Congress and the Administration’s support for local surface transportation projects under consideration for grant assistance through the U.S. Department of Transportation Multimodal Project Discretionary Grant Program, under consideration for Community Project Funding/Congressionally Directed Spending through the Fiscal Year (FY) 2023 Transportation, and Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies (T-HUD) spending bill, and others of critical importance in the Central Valley including:
- Union Pacific (Fresno Subdivision) Ceres to Turlock Double Tracking Project, San Joaquin Regional Rail Commission, $133.4 million;
- Rail Academy of Central California – Rail/Transit Workforce Development Program, San Joaquin Regional Rail Commission, $1.5 million; and
- YARTS Fleet Replacement Project, Merced County Association of Governments, $3.86 million.
The Valley Voice delegation requested robust assistance from federal partners to strengthen the State Route 99 corridor in the Central Valley and new federal investments that would enhance passenger rail service.
The delegation voiced concerns about the U.S. Department of the Interior review of the 2019 Biological Opinions for water deliveries from the Central Valley Project and State Water Project that has caused significant uncertainty about the future water supply for local governments and residents, businesses, and farmers.
Valley Voice urged lawmakers to ensure that local water infrastructure projects were ultimately funded in any final Fiscal Year (FY) 2023 Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies spending bill, including:
- Crows Landing Water Wells, Stanislaus County, $3.5 million;
- SSJID Surface Water Connection Project, City of Ripon, $3.5 million; and
- Grayson Well and Tank Replacement, City of Modesto, $1.75 million.
The delegation also advocated for a more collaborative process to determine when projects are of air quality concern, and technical improvements for measuring air quality emissions are vital. According to the delegation, Project co-benefits, such as economic development and safety improvements, should be considered throughout this process. If needed, reasonable, meaningful mitigation measures should be identified when assessing local project area impacts. These actions will help ensure that both air quality and economic benefits are achieved when implementing transportation projects in the San Joaquin Valley, according to the delegation.