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Traffic surgeons at city hall block Manteca arterial

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POSTED November 18, 2013 12:41 a.m.

Manteca has sealed the fate of Austin Road residents north of Highway 99.

In the coming years they are going to get the lion’s share of traffic from more than 750 housing units planned northeast of the Highway 99 and 120 Bypass interchange.

That’s because the city has abandoned plans to make Vasconcellos Avenue a major arterial continuing south and then swinging to the east to serve future urbanized areas east of Austin Road.

That means the bulk of Yosemite Square traffic and potential subdivisions east of Austin Road will use Austin Road to reach East Yosemite Avenue/Highway 120 to get to most points in Manteca.

If you don’t live on Austin Road you may ask why this should concern you. The answer is simple. Manteca is demonstrating a willingness to direct growth via the project du jour.

It underscores why people south of Manteca who are warily waiting for the city’s next move in the proposed alignment of McKinley Avenue with the future east-west arterial connecting with a new interchange between Manteca and Ripon have reasons not to trust the city.

Abandoning Vasconcellos as a four-lane arterial has been dismissed by staff and consultants as simply the result of a council policy decision to lower the targeted standard of traffic flow as part of  the city general plan that serves as a state mandated blueprint for growth,

On the surface it seems like a sound move. Dropping the level of service translates into perhaps a dozen or so extra seconds to a minute longer to get through key intersections.  It equates to millions upon millions of dollars in roadway construction savings and in long-term maintenance.

But applying it to Vasconcellos is the equivalent of trying to improve a heart patient’s long-term health by blocking an artery.

It severely limits traffic patterns for development east of Austin Road as well as west of Austin Road between Yosemite Avenue and the Highway 99 interchange.

That interchange, by the way, will eventually be cut-off from freeway access when a new interchange is built closer to Ripon. When that happens traffic from the new interchange that will have a roadway connecting to the realignment of McKinley Avenue will flow north on a new north-south arterial east of Austin Road.

Manteca’s long-term planning puts a lot of stock in an interchange that they have no idea of how they are going to fund. Here’s the ironic part: There is a proposed north-south alignment of high speed rail going roughly in the same vicinity. The city’s unofficial position is that it is too far off in the future — 2036 or later — and too tentative that there is no sense worrying about it. They also note the state has no guarantee of where it is going to get the funding. If that sounds familiar, it is. The new interchange probably won’t see the light of day any earlier than 2026 and that’s optimistic. As far as funding there is none.

Manteca is very nicely letting piecemeal development dictate where major roads go. Unlike Austin Road Business Park that is a large scale development covering 1,049 acres and therefore a large enough piece of the pie to make fairly sound road alignment corridor decisions, Manteca is letting much smaller undertakings contort planning in East Manteca.

We’ve already seen where that has gotten us. There is not a north-south collector street that crosses East Yosemite Avenue and goes — or will go — all the way north to Louise and then connect with Austin Road south of East Yosemite Avenue. That is why Vasconcellos was picked for traffic signals by Caltrans and not Pestana. It had the ability to be the connector street. That is no longer the case as Vasconcellos will now T-Intersect into a subdivision street within Yosemite Square.

No big deal, you might say. It already qualifies,though, as a $500,000 plus mistake.

When Manteca Trailer and Motorhome built their new location they had to pay for their share of Vasconcellos being four lanes with a center turn lane plus allow enough space for a separated bike path south of East Yosemite Avenue.

Now, thanks to a change in city plans, the road is pure unadulterated overkill. That meant a local businessman paid more than he needed for a street. It also means Manteca taxpayers that picked up the balance paid more than they needed for a street.

It is a four-lane road to nowhere. Given what planners now deem is necessary based on a development right in front of their noses, a two-lane corridor would more than sufficed.

But there was a reason it was built as four lanes. And it had nothing to do with the adopted general plan at the time. It had everything to do with the reality of trying to cross and access East Yosemite Avenue/Highway 120.

Critics are less than enthralled with the trend of having major department heads and planners who don’t live in Manteca and therefore lack a working knowledge of what it is like day-in-and-day-out to move around town to do everything from getting to work, drive kids to school and shop.

It’s easy to look at the big picture on paper and apply transportation theories but the day-to-day picture requires knowledge of the trials and tribulations of having to drive the streets of Manteca seven days a week, 24/7 if you want to go somewhere or have an emergency.

On the flip side, the decision to switch course on Vasconcellos fits nicely into the disjointed planning decisions Manteca historically has made east of Highway 99.

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