The can kicking on the future alignment of McKinley Avenue ends in 2013.
Manteca leaders - in order to comply with a state-mandated general plan update - must decide next year where to draw a corridor to accommodate an expressway through countryside that is now dotted with almond orchards, cattle, future school sites and rural estates. They could also decide not to swing McKinley Avenue eastward after it crosses to the south of Woodward Avenue to eventually connect with a new interchange on the Highway 99 corridor somewhere between Austin Road and Jack Tone Road.
That is highly unlikely, though, considering the envisioned expressway is a key component of development plans for the 1,049-acre Austin Road Business Park. The project has been nurtured as Manteca’s next big employment center.
The proposed expressway would connect with an interchange at McKinley Avenue that Manteca is pursuing as part of a strategy to open up 90 acres of city owned land for family entertainment uses that could include a 600-room Great Wolf Resort and indoor water park.
The alignment is problematic for a number of reasons.
• Residents and farmers alike have vowed to fight the alignment. It represents the first significant push back on growth in Manteca since the 1980s.
• Several potential routes cross into the flood plain where more than 70 square miles flooded in 1997 between Tracy and Manteca. It was the 11th flood since the mid-1920s. New state and federal laws may not allow a major roadway to go into the area without additional flood protection.
• A full-blown expressway would be expensive to build and maintain even if adjoining development paid for it as growth occurred. That has prompted city staff to float ideas such as making it only two lanes, banning any neighborhood commercial such as convenience stores that would in turn increases trips of future residents to reach shopping, deploying roundabouts instead of traffic signals, and banning truck traffic.
Talks about where McKinley Avenue ultimately will go started in earnest in October 2009. From the start, residents living in the area voiced opposition. Even though staff members suggested the expressway may not be built for 20 years or so, opponents noted the issue wasn’t about timing as much as it was about changing the lifestyle and further encroachment on rural Manteca.
In March of 2011 frustrated municipal staff took a directive from the City Council not to work on the alignment until 2013. The council’s decision was prompted in part by consistent pressure being applied at every opportunity by rural residents opposing the extension of McKinley Avenue.
The two-year hiatus in the planning process for what was envisioned as a major street to handle future development 20 to 30 years down the road provided opponents the opportunity to build political momentum that could either permanently derail the expressway or force the city to pursue a more northern route that would impact even more rural residents.
Regardless, any alignment that goes too far south wouldn’t work without addressing flooding.
That means the McKinley Avenue alignment debate very well may have to move forward hand-in-hand with decisions about establishing an ultimate southern boundary for the city as it moves toward the floodplain area. If not, the city would have to enter into talks with farmers to build a dry levee that would not only protect a possible expressway but also future development.
There have been a number of Planning Commission meetings during which time a solid core of opposition has been raised to any alignment that is outside of the current city limits. While opposition was initially limited to farmers and rural residents it had started to include city residents who believe such a roadway would induce additional traffic on streets in their neighborhoods as well as on Woodward Avenue.