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Manteca must decide how to landscape McKinley interchange
Hardscaping and xeriscaping techniques are reflected in this interchange in New Mexico.

Manteca, in a few weeks, will have a new entrance to the city.

It’ll be in the form of the $30.8 million McKinley Avenue interchange on the 120 Bypass.

Not only will it be the first exit to Manteca for eastbound travelers on the Bypass, but it will provide the first impression for many of the Family City.

Unlike other interchanges along the freeway through Manteca, it is much more expansive given it is opening as a partial cloverleaf.

It allows for longer ramps.

And it also takes up more space.

That barren dirt area you see while driving on the Bypass that is between the unopened ramps and the freeway will stay pretty much that way save the inevitable weeds likely to sprout until such time the area is landscaped.

And how it is landscaped, if ever, is more than just an issue of eye candy for travelers or serving as a calling card for Manteca, if you will.

How it is landscaped will determine its potential to become a magnet for illegal homeless encampments.

Currently, there are no adopted plans for landscaping.

And while the area in question is under Caltrans control, it will be up to Manteca to fund and pay for the bulk — if not all — of the ongoing maintenance costs as well as the installation of landscaping.

The city also must get Caltrans onboard with whatever landscaping takes place.

And if Mayor Gary Singh has his way it will be hardscaping.

Singh believes it will be the easiest to maintain, be sensible given the ongoing need to reduce water use, and ultimately could look the sharpest.

It also could accomplish one other thing which is essentially being hostile to illegal homeless encampments.

A previous interchange beautification effort the Bypass and part of Highway 99 using $2 million in federal American Recovery Act funds 14 year ago was less than a rousing success.

Worse yet, the shrubs and some of the trees that survived within the interchanges as well as the freeway right-of-way per se became anchors for makeshift shelters.

It has been an acute problem at and near the 120 Bypass interchanges at Main Street, Union Road, and Highway 99 and to a smaller degree Airport Way.

Hardscape, or a cross between that and xeriscaping, would not just minimize potential illegal camp sites but hard, mostly impervious surfaces can get hot in the summer and cold in the winter.

There are a lot of factors that can prompt homeless to set up encampments in the Caltrans right-of-way.

And current laws and regulations force a specific process for Caltrans to follow to abate them unless they pose an immediate safety threat to both the homeless and the driving public.

 Abatement of illegal homeless encampments is a timely process that requires a lot of man-hours, stretches Caltrans’ resources, cost tax dollars, and in the long-haul doesn’t eliminate the problem.

The area may not be conducive to the homeless given how close it isn’t currently to “resources” as defined how they can secure their daily needs whether it is accessing stores to buy food, panhandle, or dumpster dive among other things.

But there are plenty of areas in the state where freeway rights-of-way that seem less than conducive for homeless to set up — the long northbound Highway 99 off ramp to Fremont Avenue in Stockton as an example — but have drawn large numbers of homeless building makeshift shoulders.

They are set aside federal funds the city can go after that are limited to freeway beautification projects.But to apply for them, the city first has to devise a masterplan to landscape the interchange.

San Joaquin County is pitching in $300,000 toward the $500,000 cost to Stockton to devise a masterplan to beautify all of the existing interchanges on Interstate 5, Highway 4 (the Crosstown Freeway), and Highway 99 in the city of 320,000.


To contact Dennis Wyatt, email