Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Turlock, brought U.S. Transportation Under Secretary Derek Kan to town Tuesday to talk with local leaders in a hastily called meeting and to tour several project sites on a bus provided by Stanislaus County.
“I wanted you (Kan) to be here so you could see firsthand” the area’s needs, Denham said.
Denham’s Democratic opponent on the Nov. 6 ballot, Josh Harder, said Kan’s visit amounts to a taxpayer-funded campaign event.
“The Central Valley has had enough of D.C. politicians abusing their office for their own gain,” Harder said.
The Modesto Bee received notice 24 hours before Tuesday’s “roundtable discussion.” Of 16 voting Policy Board members of the host agency, the Stanislaus Council of Governments, three attended; none were county supervisors, whose regular weekly meeting was going on at the same time.
Also attending were Paul Van Konynenburg, a Modesto businessman and member of the California Transportation Commission, and other representatives of the state Department of Transportation. Others planning to extend ACE passenger train service from the Bay Area to Modesto and Ceres by 2020, and to Sacramento by 2023, also participated.
Regular meetings of government agencies require agendas posted 72 hours in advance. Tuesday’s was a special meeting, needing 24 hours notice.
StanCOG chairman Bill Zoslocki, who also is a Modesto councilman, said Tuesday’s visit was the first by such a high-ranking transportation leader from Washington, D.C.
Kan lauded Denham, who is chairman of the transportation department’s Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials. Denham also is a member of the powerful House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, which he hopes to lead if re-elected; the current chairman, Rep. Bill Shuster of Pennsylvania, is retiring, and Denham’s competition is Missouri Rep. Sam Graves.
“I get to work with great elected representatives and Chairman Denham is at the top,” Kan said. “One thing special about Chairman Denham, he’s able to paint the broad picture, cast the vision of `Here’s an important policy problem, and here’s the solution.’ ”
Asked about the timing of his visit — less than a month before the election — Kan said, “We visit districts all over the country, all the time. We’re not talking about his campaign; we’re talking about transportation projects.”
Also, it’s normal to visit areas applying for federal grants as they’re being considered, Kan said.
StanCOG hopes to land a $25 million federal grant toward the North County Corridor, a future Highway 108 expressway bypassing Modesto, Riverbank and Oakdale. The project is competing with 870 others around the United States, and Kan’s agency hopes to announce winners later this year, he said.
“It’s always great to have champions to articulate the need, and Chairman Denham does that all the time,” Kan said.
The federal government also will contribute:
▪ $14 million in Federal Demonstration Funds, and $9 million in TIGER (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery) funding, toward a Highway 132 bypass west of Modesto
▪ $1 million from the Federal Transit Administration to help rebuild the bus depot in downtown Modesto, which will double as a train station for the ACE extension
Denham received praise in March for helping to land the $9 million TIGER grant. Local leaders helped to leverage the award by using proceeds from Measure L, the countywide transportation tax approved two years ago, and this was California’s only successful application in that funding round.
“It’s important that we’re all working as a team,” Denham told those assembled.
After the event, Denham said, “I’ve been here fighting for this community, bringing money to (Highway) 132 and passing legislation to build more water storage. I’m doing my job by bringing local leaders together to meet with the administration to deliver transportation solutions to the Valley.”
The bus tour after Tuesday’s meeting helped officials from many levels of government, some of whom influence funding decisions, to “observe the state of county roads and bridges,” said David Leamon, interim director for county Public Works.
His agency will use road money to cover the bus tour. At a cost of $109 per hour plus diesel fuel, the total should come to about $352, Leamon said.
Garth Stapley: 209-578-2390