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State budget crisis slows work on 99
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California’s budget crisis is slowing down progress on environmental studies for the Highway 99 widening project from Yosemite Avenue in Manteca to the Cross-town Freeway in Stockton.

The environmental studies that were originally scheduled for completion by early March aren’t now expected to be finished until October.

The situation is being made more difficult by the mandatory furloughs ordered by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger as a stop-gap measure dealing with the state’s $26.3 billion deficit.

The studies are expected to be key in answering the question whether the replacement interchange on Highway 99 should go at Lathrop Road or Northgate Drive.

After questions were raised at the initial public meeting about why the Lathrop Road couldn’t be revisited, engineers re-examined the option that was originally discarded and came up with a new configuration they believe will lower the costs enough to make it financially feasible.

The planning team for the new Highway 99 interchange in north Manteca advanced a Lathrop Road/Highway 99 interchange to compete with two other options that include curving North Main Street over Highway 99 and extending Northgate over the freeway to connect with Southland Road.

The team looked at various designs and ran numbers on land acquisition prices and determined the new alternative will meet the requirements of Proposition 1A bond money stipulations for Highway 99 modernization to keep right-of-way expenses at a minimum.

The last design advanced has the southbound Highway 99 traffic coming off the interchange in such a manner that it goes into a signalized intersection. Traffic crossing that intersection will go directly into a proposed four-lane extension of North Main Street that will connect with the existing four-lane roadway at Northgate Drive.
Traffic heading southbound on Highway 99 from Main Street would turn right at the intersection to go directly on to the onramp.

The original design for Lathrop Road rejected as too expensive was more of a full cloverleaf. Modern freeway standards require the elimination of one of the two existing interchanges due to the extremely short distance between them for acceleration and deceleration lanes.

The design team got the message loud and clear about how people felt about the option that connected Northgate Drive and Southland Road.

The Manteca Unified School District board has taken a position against any option that doesn’t focus on Lathrop Road due to concerns about an increase in traffic on streets near East Union High and Neil Hafley schools.

The Manteca Chamber of Commerce board unanimously took the same position the school board did urging Caltrans to focus on Lathrop Road at Highway 99.

Some 13.1 miles of four-lanes of the Highway 99 freeway corridor is being widened to six lanes between the Cross-town Freeway in Stockton and the Highway 120 Bypass at a cost of $496 million.