The Metro board voted Thursday to take a gamble and proceed with a $1 billion project to widen the San Diego (405) Freeway through the Sepulveda Pass, despite lacking the majority of the funds needed.
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority currently has $372 million of the $1.03 billion it needs to complete the project, or about enough to keep it going for 18 months, according to Metro staffers.
The project includes adding a 10-mile carpool lane to the northbound 405, constructing about 18 miles of retaining and sound walls, and replacing bridges along the way.
The vast majority of the funding for the project -- all but about $13 million -- is set to come from state and federal sources.
Of that, about $730 million comes from state transportation bond money that has been withheld from Metro due to the financial crisis.
Awarding a contract Thursday to Kiewit Pacific Co. to design and build the project, Metro board members seemed confident the money would be forthcoming as the economy rebounds.
"It's too important to this region, and the jobs it creates are too important," said Doug Failing, a non-voting member of the Metro board who was appointed by the governor.
Although beginning construction without all of the funding is a gamble, not starting now could cost Metro the $189.9 million in federal stimulus funds that have been allocated to the project, said Rick Thorpe, Metro's chief capital management officer.
Further, waiting until the economy rebounds could drive up the cost, which has been kept relatively low by work-hungry construction companies vying to underbid one another, Metro staff said.
As a precautionary measure, the Metro board set aside $30 million to cover the termination costs on the project should the state fail to come through on its promised funding.
"We call it the nuclear option. It's the last thing anyone wants to do, but we think it's financially prudent," Thorpe said.
With the approval of the Metro board, work can begin this summer, creating about 18,000 jobs, according to Metro spokesman Marc Littman.