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Highway 99: Weeds of death
City recalls how grass fire led to womans death
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Councilman Steve DeBrum is getting impatient with weeds along Highway 99.

Not only is he getting tired of how the abundance of weed and rubbish provides a negative image of Manteca to travelers but he fears a repeat of a deadly 1990s fire that led to the death of a woman.

“It is sending the wrong signal,” DeBrum said of the weeds during Tuesday’s City Council meeting. He added it would take just one match to start a fire that could quickly cover the busy freeway with smoke and cause a repeat of the 1990s tragedy.

In that incident, smoke from a grass fire was drifting across the southbound lanes of Highway 99 near the Highway 120 Bypass interchange. The zero visibility triggered an accident where several vehicles left the road.

There were several serious injuries but that wasn’t the end of the story. Relatives of the victim were trying to find out the status of a passenger in one of the cars who was not taken to a hospital. Manteca police and fire personnel returned to the scene and after a search discovered the body of a woman in a thicket of high weeds.

She was dead when emergency personnel returned 24 hours after the accident. Apparently she had been ejected from the vehicle during the accident but the smoke and high weeds made it impossible for responders to notice her.
City Attorney John Brinton said it was unclear at the time whether she died in the accident or after being left for an extended period of time in the weeds.

Manteca at the time was lobbying Caltrans to try and force them to mow down weeds along the Highway 120 Bypass and Highway 99. They also were aggressively trying to get the railroad to do the same thing along tracks cross-crossing Manteca.

Caltrans has since instituted a more aggressive and timely weed abatement program.

Today, though, the areas of high weeds that DeBrum is concerned about are part of a $1.4 million landscaping project being funded entirely by federal stimulus funds.

Funding for the Highway 99/Yosemite Avenue interchange as well as the Highway 99/Highway 120 Bypass interchange has been in place since early spring. Improvements have been made to prepare the Yosemite Avenue interchange for planting. Because that portion of the work got started late, the second phase of the actual planting was put on hold so that most of the summer heat would be over when the planting took place.

The contractors are ready to move forward in the coming month.

Public Works Director Mark Houghton said he will check with the contractor to see if they can move up the weed and rubbish removal several weeks.

Highway 99 is major landscaping undertaking
Manteca – working in tandem with Caltrans and the San Joaquin County Council of Governments – will undertake the most expensive and ambitious landscaping project in city history.

The $1.4 million in American Recovery Act money will transform up to 50 acres at the two interchanges from barren weed infested areas into ones drenched in color and foliage.

The biggest change will take place at the 120 Bypass with Highway 99 where upwards of 130,000 vehicles pass through daily making it the heaviest traveled pavement in Manteca. It is there that up to 1,700 trees – primarily native species – will be planted.

The Yosemite Avenue and Highway 99 interchange landscaping will be more ornamental in nature.

Caltrans’s design perimeters call for minimizing the use of water at the 120 Bypass/Highway 99 interchange. The trees will be irrigated intensely for about three years to get them established.

The landscaping portion will require the contractor to maintain it for three years. That means the city won’t incur any maintenance costs until late 2013. As far as the 120/Bypass and Highway 99 interchange is concerned three years maintenance would be at a minimum anyway. As for Yosemite and Highway 99, the city has put a cost for upkeep on that interchange’s landscaping due to its ornamental nature at more than $30,000 a year including labor, water, and replacement costs.

Originally, Manteca was moving forward with the Yosemite/99project when it heard that the federal stimulus money for highways included a landscaping component. Since the project was already to go, city leaders approached the SJCOG that serves as  the regional clearing house for state and federal transportation funds about maybe adding the second interchange into the mix. The securing of the federal funds means Measure K money committed to the project can be used for other freeway landscaping elsewhere within San Joaquin County.

When it reaches maturity, the 120 Bypass/Highway 99 interchange landscaping will resemble woodlands.

The planting scheme calls for taller trees in the back with heights scaling downward towards the roadway. The evergreen trees picked for the back are similar to the ones you’ll find along Center Street and the west side of Morezone Field.

Others in the mixture includes several oak trees, western red buds, Chinese pistache, and several others.