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Atherton Drive gap opens to traffic
Atherton Drive gap opens
Manteca Mayor Ben Cantu cuts the ribbon to officially open the finished Atherton Drive gap near the intersection with Union Road on Thursday morning.

Traffic on Atherton Drive — as well as retail development — is expected to pick up with the opening Thursday of the newest section between Union Road and a point near Sparrowhawk Drive east of Airport Way.

Dignitaries Thursday morning looked on as Mayor Ben Cantu cut the ribbon officially opening the four-lane, $4.4 million project.

The snip of the scissors is expected to lead to through traffic — especially those drivers trying to avoid the congested last mile of the 120 Bypass heading east during the afternoon commute where an accident happened on average every 15 hours in 2018 — switching from Woodward Avenue to Atherton Drive. Motorists will now be able to get off the 120 Bypass at Airport Way and travel the four-lane Atherton to Woodward and then Moffat to Highway 99 with only having to deal with two signals and one four-way stop. By contrast using Woodward Avenue to reach Highway 99 requires traveling two lanes for half of the distance, going through two roundabouts plus three stop signs with a fourth soon to be added at Pillsbury Road.

Councilwoman Debby Moorhead — credited with making the final push to get the twice-delayed project built — said residents south of the 120 Bypass will be able to reach the popular Costco shopping area without having to go on the freeway or “take a convoluted route.”

It also means there will be more retail shopping south of the 120 Bypass.

The Southern California based Living Spaces Furniture inked a deal to go ahead with a 130,000-square-foot showroom-warehouse fronting the new stretch of Atherton Drive now that the road is in. They expect to be under construction by no later than early 2020. They are projecting annual sales of $35 million at the high-profile location on Atherton Drive. They will employ 65 full-time workers, 25-part-time workers and throughout a given year have 50 temporary workers.  

Developer Bill Fillos confirmed there are three commercial concerns in “serious negotiations” for possibly building along the extension including one grocery store.

“They wouldn’t  even be talking to us if the road wasn’t in,” Filios said.

The high profile site has a much bigger traffic count and is more centrally located to growth than the stalled SaveMart shopping center at Atherton Drive and Main Street.

Moorhead insisted that the roadway go in as four lanes instead of a patchwork of four and two lanes as staff had proposed to save money. Filios noted that agreements made with property owners means as each parcel is developed the city will be reimbursed money to go toward other major road projects.

The Public Works Department has already started a study to determine of warrants can be met to make the intersection at Atherton Drive and Airport Way a full four-way stop instead of just stop signs for Atherton Drive traffic now that the gap is open.

The landscaping along the new section of Atherton Drive also reflects the city’s new stance toward water conservation. While there are trees and some shrubs areas that would have been planted in grass in the past are covered with bark. The project also extended the bike path so that it now runs from the eastern edge of Orchard Valley to where Atherton Drive currently ends a third of a mile west of Airport Way. As the area to the west of Orchard Valley develops other sections of the bicycle path will be put in place to allow those in the neighborhood southwest of Airport Way to travel on a separated bike path through downtown to Airport Way north of Lathrop Road while only crossing streets 13 times

Moorhead and fellow council member Gary Singh were the first to officially drive the new section of Atherton after the mayor cut the ribbon.

To contact Dennis Wyatt, email