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Honest taxes are helping address 120 Bypass issues
Manteca Mayor Ben Cantu, left, and former mayor Jack Snyder pose by an aerial rendering of what will be California’s first diverging diamond interchange at Union Road and the 120 Bypass.

Perhaps nothing else identifies Manteca to the greater Northern San Joaquin Valley as much as the 120 Bypass.

That’s because the major connector between Interstate 5 and Highway 99 and the primary route to move goods and commuters in the 209 to and from the Bay Area is the biggest — and deadliest — tourniquet on traffic flow in the Northern San Joaquin Valley.

The traffic tie ups during commute hours and now even on weekends is borderline insane. That is on top of the current pace of roughly an accident a day.

It is also the deadliest stretch of freeway in the 209. Over a seven year period there have been 1,261 accidents including 11 crashes that involved fatalities and 815 that had injuries along the six-mile 120 Bypass. The vast majority happened from a point midway from the Union Road and Main Street interchanges heading eastbound to the Highway 99 transition.

Believe it or not at one time it was even deadlier. When the 120 Bypass first opened in the 1980s as a two-lane expressway with occasional passing lanes it quickly became known as Blood Alley for its grinding head-on collisions. There were 36 deaths in 30 months. The carnage was slowed down when citizens led by Jack Snyder — who organized a blitz of the Bay Area as well as handing out flyers to frustrated motorists inching through Manteca on old Highway 120 in the 1970s to successfully get the state to build the bypass — again campaigned to get the state to address the carnage. The solution was concrete K-rail to separate opposite lanes of travel.

Then in the mid-1990s as congestion on the expressway created major issues, San Joaquin Council of Governments stepped up to make the state an interest free loan using Measure K sales tax receipts to get the bypass widened to full-fledged freeway status almost 10 years ahead of the state’s schedule. SJCOG made the same arrangements shortly thereafter to get I-205 widened to three lanes in each direction.

Measure K sales tax is also playing a role in the Union Road interchange upgrade covering $2 million of the cost.

Another former Manteca mayor during his term in office — Steve DeBrum — worked behind the scenes to get regional support for a solution to address the Highway 99/120 Bypass/Austin Road snafu.

The result was Caltrans’ three-phase approach that will cost $131.5 million.

Senate Bill 1 that authorized the 12 cent gas tax and was reaffirmed by votes has helped Caltrans identify the $52.5 million needed for the first phase.

The first phase that will resolve the primary eastbound 120 Bypass issues that requires the replacement of the Austin Road interchange to accommodate more lanes on southbound Highway 99.  Two lanes would go from the eastbound 120 Bypass to southbound Highway 99. The goal is to award the contract in the summer of 2021, start construction in the fall of 2021, and have work on the first phase completed by the fall of 2023.

The second phase costing $26 million addresses the northbound 99 issue primarily by adding a second transition lane to the westbound 120 Bypass. The third phase costing $53 million would restore the southbound off ramp and northbound onramps at Austin Road in such a manner that they will have minimal disruption of traffic flow on both the 120 Bypass and Highway 99. The two ramps are being closed as part of the first phase.

Funding has not been identified for the second and third phases.

That said, the solutions that have been in place on the 120 Bypass and those that are going forward have been made possible by “honest” tax measures where state and local officials have vigilantly stuck to promises they made to voters to deliver projects.

To contact Dennis Wyatt, email