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Interchange work may ease Bypass congestion
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Traffic congestion at the 120 Bypass and Highway 99 could be addressed in the near future by Caltrans.
Manteca municipal staff has been told by the state agency that changes may occur to the interchange as part of a project targeted to get underway in 2020 to relieve congestion on both freeways by adding a second southbound Highway 99 connector lane for the eastbound 120 Bypass.
That more than likely would mean extending the merge lane on Highway 99 that is impossible to do without making significant changes to the Austin Road interchange. 
The work is designed to reduce congestion and enhance safety, especially on the deadly last mile of the 120 Bypass eastbound lanes.
“This project will likely include the reconfiguration  of the Austin Road overcrossing resulting in costly alteration to most of the city’s planned improvements that were included in the Austin Road/(Highway) 99 project,” noted City Engineer Kevin Jorgenson II in  a memo to the City Council.
It is a development that provides a silver lining to the news that Austin Road Business Park — an envisioned job creation Mecca for Manteca consisting of 1,500 acres of business parks, commercial and residential uses — is on hold for the foreseeable future.
The City Council is being asked on Tuesday to terminate contracts with George Reed Inc. and Mendoza & Associates for a combined $2.4 million to upgrade the off ramps and part of Moffat Boulevard as part of the initial phase of Austin Road Business Park improvements.
Work originally was supposed to start in early 2016.
That means $2.2 million in city transportation fees paid by developers can now go toward other road projects. The money originally was committed to connecting Atherton Drive between Union Road and Airport Way.
There is a potential for claims from the contractors involved.
Planning for upgrades for the transition from the 120 Bypass to Highway 99 was initiated by the San Joaquin Council of Governments working with Caltrans. The earliest it could be completed is 2022 under current timetables.
Manteca Mayor Steve DeBrum is working on putting together a coalition of regional elected leaders in a bid to make sure the proposed project is on target put to move it up if possible. The primary victims of congestion and accidents are commuters from Ripon, Modesto, and the rest of Stanislaus County that commute to jobs in Tracy and the Bay Area.
Safety issues center on the transition to southbound Highway 99 and how many impatient drivers — or motorists unfamiliar with the 120 Bypass — will cut over at the last second causing the right lane traffic flow to suddenly slow down. The vast majority of the accidents are rear-end collisions caused by the “Slinky” effect of the right lane during heavy traffic.
Caltrans is currently working on warning signs using real time traffic conditions not only for the 120 Bypass but also along Highway 99 as it approaches the interchange.
Studies are needed to make sure the warning signs are properly placed in an effort to eliminate any liability Caltrans might incur by installing them. The studies are expected to take six to seventh months to complete.
The automated warning system would include changeable message boards specifically for traffic slowdowns. It would include four monitoring stations and a closed circuit TV station. It is designed to increase awareness of real time traffic conditions ahead and allow motorists to adjust top traffic congestion ahead.
Caltrans is targeting environmental clearance next spring with construction in fall of 2016.

To contact Dennis Wyatt, email