State budget cuts threaten to derail a road-widening project considered vital to the future development of the Cal State Channel Islands campus.
University officials recently learned that state funding earmarked for the widening of Lewis Road had been suspended by lawmakers scrambling to close a $14-billion budget shortfall. The news came months before the widening work on the main route to the campus was scheduled to start and could delay those improvements by nearly two decades.
That is not nearly soon enough for university planners, who have laid plans for enrollment to more than double by 2007 and grow to more than 15,000 full-time-equivalent students by 2025.
To absorb traffic generated by that growth, officials say immediate improvements are needed on the two-lane thoroughfare between Camarillo and the Cal State campus, a narrow, 3.2-mile stretch surrounded by farmland and bordered by deep irrigation ditches.
"The road was not designed for that kind of access; it was designed for farm access," said university President Richard Rush, who is counting on Lewis Road expanding to four lanes to accommodate traffic increases.
"We've got to provide a safe means for students to come to campus," Rush said. "The sooner we can do that, the better."
The university is not alone. At a recent meeting, Ginger Gherardi, executive director of the Ventura County Transportation Commission, told university officials that several major road-improvement projects were stalled by the state's decision to withhold transportation funding.
Those projects, approved years ago through the State Transportation Improvement Program, included the widening of California 23 in Thousand Oaks, California 118 in Simi Valley and portions of the Ventura Freeway from the Los Angeles County line to California 33 in Ventura.
"The problems are much greater than Lewis Road," Gherardi said. "The bottom fell out and now we have a mess on our hands."
Faced with a new funding reality, university planners have begun looking for other ways to accomplish the $30-million road project.
They are anxiously awaiting results of a phone poll ordered by the transportation commission to gauge public interest in a half-cent sales tax increase to pay for long-delayed road projects. The poll is currently underway, and the results should be known next month.
If voters favor the increase, the issue could be placed on the November ballot.
The tax increase would generate about $50 million a year and allow the Lewis Road widening project to move forward in 2005.
Aside from a new source of funding, university officials also are looking at ways to reconfigure the project or complete it in sections, concentrating first on the portion of Lewis between Pleasant Valley Road and the Cal State Channel Islands entrance.
"The road is really very necessary for the build-out of the campus," said George Dutra, a university vice president in charge of campus development. "You are talking about a significant increase in traffic within three to five years, so we definitely cannot wait."