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WAITING ON ATHERTON

Relief for Woodward promised then yanked

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WAITING ON ATHERTON

Traffic volume picks up on Woodward Avenue during the afternoon commute.

Bulletin file photos/


POSTED January 19, 2017 1:05 a.m.

It starts weekday afternoons usually around 3 o’clock.
Traffic slows down on the eastbound 120 Bypass.
Savvy locals — and those whose destinations are along Highway 99 to the south and are gun shy of the upcoming killer merge — exit the 120 Bypass at Airport Way. They head to Woodward Avenue and then swing east.
There they turn onto a roadway that has all the appearances of a mad traffic engineer’s experiment gone haywire. Segments are still a narrow country road with structures far apart. Another has subdivisions sprouting up along its edge including homes with circular driveways accessing Woodward Avenue.
Another segment has numerous small country-style estates with homes, most fairly close to the road. Further down Woodward Avenuein comparison resembles the Autobahn with its four lanes and median cordoned off by sound walls. Once the medians disappear some people drive like it really is the Autobahn sometimes losing control of their vehicles and taking out light poles and trees on a fairly regular basis. As Woodward nears its eastern end it is forced down to one eastbound lane and two westbound lanes before reverting back to a narrow two-lane road with no paved shoulders.
In this eclectic mix of street profiles are children walking to and from school as well as Woodward Park.
Woodward Avenue has had its share of accidents in recent years. That includes two motorcycle fatalities and a grandfather who was run over while almost midway across the five-lane section while pushing his grandchild in a stroller on an outing to Woodward Park.
For years residents south of the 120 Bypass have been told it what they are dealing with on Woodward Avenue is only a temporary.
However, the City Council back in 2006 never envisioned what is happening now.
That was when the decision was made to abort turning all of Woodward Avenue into a four lane road as it is near Woodward Park. The council abandoned the major arterial approach for two reasons — they did not have the stomach to use eminent domain to widen Woodward Avenue where it has been fronted by 72 homes for 30 plus years that were built when it was a rural road. Also since the traffic circulation plan had been put in place in the 1990s, Atherton Drive was added to the mix in a bid to lure commercial ventures such as Bass Pro Shops along the 120 Bypass frontage. It did not make sense to them to have two major four-lane arterials just a quarter of a mile apart while decimating the lifestyles of 72 families by bringing a fairly high speed roadway within feet of their homes.
The council then directed the staff to set about making Woodward Avenue ultimately a somewhat slower speed two-lane collector street much like Powers Avenue, Crom Street, and Daniels Street.
They went to developers that already had approved maps on projects that had yet to break ground and asked them to redesign them to have homes facing Woodward instead of sound walls so the new development would blend better with the existing homes.
The redesigned lots — that builders said originally weren’t popular with home buyers — were configured with deeper setbacks and circular driveways. This was a nod to the fact Woodward Avenue would have fairly heavy traffic as a collector street. On-street parking was designed with bulb outs to restrict areas to two vehicles at a time providing additional sight distance to enhance safety.
Then the city added tree lined medians and roundabouts to the street design while limiting Woodward Avenue to two lanes. It is the same design that future subdivisions along Woodward Avenue will employ along the two-lane section.
At the same time the council did one other thing. They wanted the missing link on Atherton Drive between Airport Way and Union Road put in place. That way traffic that needed to get to a Manteca location south of the 120 Bypass would be more likely to use the four-lane (plus turning lane) Atherton Drive that had no on-street parking, few intersections, no roundabouts and only one stop between Airport Way and where it joins Woodward Avenue near Moffat Boulevard as opposed to Woodward Avenue.
By April 2013 the City Council had approved the negative impact report for the 4,100-foot extension that actually starts east of Sparrowhawk Drive. The project also had clearance from the state.
The $2.6 million project was funded by the council in the 2014-2015 city budget. The council had every expectation the missing link would be in place by the end of 2015.
Then the money was shifted to make improvements to the Austin Road and Highway 99 interchange onramps and part of Moffat Boulevard for access to the 1,049-acre Austin Road Business park ultimately killed by the city’s glacial paced processing of the development agreement needed to move the project forward.
The promise was made to return the funding to Atherton Drive once all outstanding expenses with a cancelled construction contract  for Austin Road and Moffat improvements were settled.  The verbal promise was never kept.
Fast forward to today.
The council has defunded the missing link in the current budget that was adopted in July. Public Works Director Mark Houghton in December indicated the rationale behind that decision is that there are other pressing road projects chasing limited city dollars. By defunding Atherton Drive it puts he money back in circulation for consideration for other uses. As a caveat — since he noted the council sets the goals and not staff — Houghton noted Atherton Drive could possiblly end up as the best use of available funds at the current time
As it stands now there are no plans to put in the missing link that City Council members and even staff have said at various council meetings over the past three years would take pressure off of Woodward Avenue from those either getting off the 120 Bypass earlier to avoid the back-up, those who avoid it completely and take Woodward to get to Highway 99 via Moffat or end up on Woodward Avenue during the frequent accidents that close one or both eastbound lanes.

To contact Dennis Wyatt, email dwyatt@mantecabulletin.com

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