Driving on Hwy 152 could one day cost you

FRESNO, Calif.

Driving on Highway 152 could one day cost you. The California Transportation Commission is considering a plan to add toll booths to the highway in order to pay for a new four lane road between Casa De Fruta and Gilroy, and also a long-awaited bypass around Los Banos.

"The Los Banos bypass has been a project on our books since the late 70's," said Jesse Brown. "In the early 90's it became our number 1 priority in Merced County, and we have been trying to find money for it ever since then."

The Merced County Association of Governments says toll booths may be the only way to pay for the $420 million bypass. But first, it's being asked to contribute $7 million toward the overall environmental review process, money that was set aside specifically for the bypass.

Mayor Mike Villalta said, "Our citizens are going to have to pay for this, and they're going to pay in many ways."

Los Banos Mayor Mike Villalta says he's seen millions of dollars taken from the bypass project before, and he's not convinced the toll money would ever benefit his city.

"Los Banos has taken a formal opinion that we are in favor of the bypass," said Mayor Villalta. "It's just that it's a moving target, and I'm hoping that this won't happen, again."

The idea is also drawing criticism from the Merced County Farm Bureau. Amanda Carvajal says one option calls for four to five toll booths in Merced County alone, with prices as high as seven dollars per tolling site. Large trucks would likely pay much more.

Amanda Carvajal said, "That's just adding up, adding costs to the labor intensive world that we live in in agriculture, and ultimately that cost is going to fall into the consumer's lap."

But Jesse Brown believes the long term benefits would make the project worthwhile for everyone, including those in the Ag industry.

Brown said, "It will help them get their product where it needs to go sooner than later, and safer as well."

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