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No-bus zones creates Lathrop High traffic woes

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POSTED September 16, 2009 2:40 a.m.
LATHROP – Three months ago, Dan Doyle was singing his praises for the West Lathrop Road improvements. He could hardly wait to see the improvements completed.

“It’s for the kids… to get this road open. We can’t open it fast enough. We need to finish this project,” said the longtime farmer who lives on Dos Reis Road, the two-lane country road behind Lathrop High School.
Tuesday night at the City Council meeting, Doyle was singing a different tune. He was singing the blues.

“You might as well throw your money away in a trash can,” he said of the $350,000 that went into the improvements of Lathrop Road so that it could be opened in time for the start of school.

His beef: The traffic jam in the morning when parents are dropping off their children to school, and in the afternoon when they come to pick up their kids is so bad cars are backed up to Fifth Street.

Making the traffic problem even worse is the fact Lathrop High School is having, for the first time, a junior class where some students are of age to drive their cars, Doyle explained before the start of the meeting.

But the main culprit for the traffic mess, he pointed out, was the severe cutbacks in the 2009-10 budget of the Manteca Unified School District which is still grappling with a multimillion-dollar deficit. In addition to issuing pink slips to several school employees to bridge the budget shortfall, the district also adopted a no-bus zone radius as part of the budget cuts – 1.25 miles for elementary school students and 2.5 miles for high school students. Those who, for one reason or another, cannot walk that distance to school have to furnish their own transportation to and from school.

As a result, said Doyle, traffic on Lathrop Road to Lathrop High during school days has worsened even with the recent opening of the section of the road which now makes it possible to access the school’s front entrance. He added that while Lathrop Road from Manthey Road starts with four lanes, it quickly narrows down to just two lanes near the approach to the school entrance further worsening the bottleneck.

“They may need to reopen Dos Reis to school traffic” to ease the problem at Lathrop Road, he said.

But that’s something he does not want to see happen, Doyle said, because “that road is unsafe; I don’t want to see accidents happen.”

When the new campus first opened its doors to the first freshman and sophomore classes last year, the only entrance to the school was through the back gate on Dos Reis Road. Lathrop Road remained closed since improvements have not been completed, hence, hazardous to both vehicle and pedestrian traffic.

The above improvements to Lathrop Road were described as “alternative interim solutions” so as to provide a school access route that would be safer than Dos Reis Road which, in addition to being just two lanes, is flanked on both sides by open ditches.

Richland Communities, the master developer of Central Lathrop Specific Plan area where the high school is located, ran into financial difficulties and was not able to bring Lathrop Road to completion. As a result, and because the high school was completed and ready to open for business, the school district and the city ended up completing the project that Richland was unable to deliver.

Officials with the school district could not be reached for comment after business hours Tuesday night.
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