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Bridge to Lathrops future
River Islands breaks ground on $17M river crossing
Participating in the groundbreaking for Bradshaw Crossing on Tuesday were, from left, Lathrop Mayor Chaka Santos, former Lathrop Councilman Bennie Gatto, River Islands project manager Susan DellOsso, former Lathrop Mayor Steve McKee, and Linda Bradshaw - photo by DENNIS WYATT

LATHROP — Call it a $17 million vote of confidence in the economic future of South San Joaquin County.

With little fanfare, Lathrop dignitaries took ceremonial digs Tuesday into the sun-baked levee that protects the community from the snow-melt swollen San Joaquin River.

Behind them was Lathrop’s future. The 4,800-acre Stewart Tract just 300 feet across the river is slowly and deliberately being transformed by England-based Cambay Group into the largest planned community ever undertaken in the San Joaquin Valley. It will include a town center at the western end of the bridge, 11,000 homes, an employment center, eight major river access points with bays plus numerous interior lakes.

At build-out it could easily represent the equivalent of more than $6 billion worth of development at today’s market prices.

And today’s market is exactly why River Islands at Lathrop has yet to build a house even though they have secured ample water, purchased all of the land, obtained wastewater treatment capacity and created the safest and strongest levees in California that are 300 feet wide.

“It would be nice to be able to start building homes when the bridge is completed about this time next year,” River Islands at Lathrop project manager Susan Dell’Osso told the small gathering.

But there is no rush.

Cambay Group - which spent 17 years moving the 11,000-home Dougherty Valley project in the Diablo Valley to groundbreaking - is waiting for the market to bounce back so as not to undercut their investment.

Meanwhile they are building twin bridge decks spanning 300 feet at the cost of $17 million. The bridges will each accommodate two travel lanes, bike lane, and sidewalk.

The bridges being paid for by Cambay are a City of Lathrop undertaking. In all likelihood the bridges will stand for several years as something the environment artist Christo would create - a giant steel and concrete canopy spanning the river ending some 10 feet above the ground on either side of the river. The approaches will be put in once development gets underway in earnest on farmland that for decades produced everything from watermelon to pumpkins.

Dell’Osso noted that while construction costs were favorable, it was more of an issue of the clock running out on hard-to-get federal permits needed to span the river. An endangered fish species occupies these parts of the San Joaquin River. That meant if the permit lapsed there was a good chance they couldn’t secure another.

So history was made Tuesday a mile downstream from where visionaries of another era - the Big Four of the Central Pacific - officially completed the last segment of the Transcontinental Railroad when they put the finishing touches on the railroad trestle at Mossdale on Sept. 8, 1869.

When completed, the twin bridges will be christened Bradshaw Crossing in honor of Mike Bradshaw who passed away 10 years ago.

“It is poetic,” Darryl Foreman, who worked extensively on the original plans for the development, said after the ceremonies. “Mike worked hard at making sure there was a bridge built between the two communities.”

The communities are, of course, Lathrop as it is now on the east side of the river and the future 11,000 homes. Cambay - like Bradshaw - didn’t want River Islands to simply connect to Interstate 5 and surface streets to Tracy and eventually interstate 205. They wanted to make sure there was a bridge built - figuratively and literally - to tie the two parts of Lathrop together.

It is why the River islands town square with its expansive plaza, riverfront promenade, condos above what they hope will be quaint cafes and stores is not in the middle of the 11,000 homes but to the far eastern edge so that it can serve as a community hub for all of Lathrop.

Bradshaw Crossing will also serve as a way to tie the South County communities of Manteca, Lathrop and Tracy together. When it is done and ultimately opened, you will be able to take Louise Avenue from North Ripon Road west of Manteca through Lathrop and all the way to Tracy. It will mark the first time ever that the three fastest growing communities in the South County have been tied together by the same road.