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Atherton Drive gap work starting
Segment from Main Street to Wellington Avenue
Work starts this month on extending Atherton Drive eastward from South Main Street. - photo by HIME ROMERO

A half-mile extension of Atherton Drive was part of the much ballyhooed federal stimulus effort to get Americans back to work.

The Bush Administration awarded Manteca $900,000 toward the $2.9 million “shovel ready project” prior to the November 2010 election. City leaders had hoped to move forward within six months.

Two years later, the project is finally breaking ground this week against the backdrop of President Barack Obama’s jobs speech expected to center around pumping federal dollars into the nation’s infrastructure to create jobs.  It is doing so without federal stimulus funds.

Manteca’s experience illustrates just how difficult it may be to move any major infrastructure project forward fast enough to help create jobs in the near future given stringent state and federal environmental review policies. It is a vastly different world in terms of project review hoops that construction such as roads, freeways and dams must jump through than it was during the Great Depression when Hoover Dam, the Central Valley Water project, and other major public infrastructure projects were undertaken to put Americans to work.

The four-lane segment being developed from South Main Street east to a point where Atherton Drive now terminates west of Wellington Avenue looked like a slam dunk. Property owners were willing to cooperate in the sale of the land. The only structures were an old rental home and a barn.

What stalled the project that had secured $900,000 in federal stimulus funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act was a backlog of projects trying to get environmental clearance from the state to move forward. The city was unable to meet the federal deadline for getting the project started so they had to forfeit the money.

Manteca managed to horse trade the money for other construction funds within the county through the efforts of the San Joaquin Council of Government. That kept the stimulus money in the county plus allowed Manteca to marry outside funds with local fees collected on growth.

Work on the Atherton Drive gap is expected to be completed by early 2012.

When finished, motorists will be able to take Atherton Drive from Union Road all the way to Woodward Avenue less than an eighth of a mile west of Moffat Boulevard.