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Growth = less congestion?
Main roads built as development happens
Traffic backs up on Moffat Boulevard during the afternoon commute. - photo by HIME ROMERO/The Bulletin

The daily afternoon back-up of traffic on Moffat Boulevard — often stretching from Austin Road past Woodward Avenue — isn’t going away anytime soon.

Nor are the Saturday and Sunday traffic jams on northbound South Main between Woodward Avenue and the 120 Bypass.

Under current Manteca municipal policy, neither South Main Street will be widened nor Moffat Boulevard congestion addressed until such time as adjacent land develops or a major development dumping more  traffic onto those roads breaks ground..

Developers are required to put in complete streets within the subdivisions they build but only “half streets” of major arterials that abut their projects. Historically it has worked well.  You can see examples of “half streets” on key roads throughout Manteca such as Airport Way north of Daniels Street, Woodward Avenue between Atherton Drive and Bridewell Avenue, and Lathrop Road between Del Webb at Airport Way and Calvary Community Church and the Woodbridge shopping center anchored by CVS Pharmacy to name a few.

Occasionally the city steps up and finds funding sources to finish widening key streets such as Union Road even if it doesn’t include sidewalks, curbs and gutters. That happened a few years back on Union Road when it was clear that land where a home had burned twice by trespassing homeless individuals just south of Wawona Street wasn’t going to be developed in the foreseeable future.

With more than 1,500 homes are expected to come on line south of Woodward Avenue from along Pillsbury Road to almost Airport Way in the next several years, a fix for the South Main Street bottleneck is highly unlikely.

That’s because the land in question between the 120 Bypass and Atherton Drive is designated for commercial use.

Several city leaders have indicated they expected the land to develop before now. However,  there is an abundance of commercial land along the 120 Bypass corridors that is undeveloped and arguably in higher profile locations such as at the Airport Way and Union Road interchange with the 120 Bypass.

The city is on the verge of adding another 20 acres of freeway exposure commercial near McKinley Avenue that is targeted for conversion into the city’s fourth interchange on the 120 Bypass in the next few years.

Meanwhile housing demand is high meaning more people will be trying to move between the 120 Bypass and their homes to the south in the coming years.

Manteca collects Public Facilities Improvement Plan (PFIP) fees on new growth to pay for some major arterial work. An example is the budgeted building of the Atherton Drive missing link between Union Road and a point east of Airport Way. While developers will ultimately pay for the improvements to the centerline on their side of the road when they build, the PFIP fees would go toward the north side’s cost.

Ironically, that PFIP money for the missing link work had been shifted to work on Moffat Boulevard and Austin Road as the precursor to opening development of the 1,050-acre Austin Road Business Park. The City Council last week, though, killed a contract they had awarded for the work since a snafu on the development agreement work forced the developer to put plans on hold.

Some cities in the case of property owners along major arterials that aren’t ready to develop when traffic pressures gets to the point  of being unbearable and roadways needed to be added to provide additional capacity will go ahead and pay for the widening of streets along such properties. Then, when the property is developed, they seek reimbursement for the costs of widening the road.

Manteca’s ability to pay for key road widening and even freeway interchange improvements is being hampered by the city itself. Nearly five years ago it was brought to the council’s attention a road fee slapped on growth may be the only way the city could afford to pay for upwards of $120 million in roadwork south of the 120 Bypass — including a new Austin Road interchange on Highway 99 as well as for upgrades to the Main Street and Airport Way interchanges. The need for the fee was discussed but it never went further. Meanwhile more than 1,400 homes have been built.

The city has been working for more than two years on trying to justify increasing the PFIP fee in general. That too hasn’t come to fruition. That means every building permit issued is in fact — as Mayor Steve DeBrumn points out — “leaving money on the table.”

State law and court decisions have made it clear that growth can only be charged fees to pay for the share of services that they create a demand for. That means the 1,400 homes built in the past five years have added a proportionate demand for infrastructure such as major roads but haven’t been paying toward them.  In creating a nexus — justification documents needed to impose fees and the amount charged — the new homes built in recent years will be treated as existing homes essentially increaseing the city’s funding deficit. When a fee is imposed, new homes built after that can’t legally be charged to make up for that deficit.