Electronic billboard signs along the 120 Bypass are counter to public safety goals the Manteca City Council has established in the state mandated general plan they have adopted to serve as the blueprint for municipal growth.
The Manteca Planning Commission on a 3-2 vote Tuesday sent that finding to the city’s elected leaders in a bid to kill any efforts to place privately owned electronic billboards with changeable messages on city owned property even if the sign was designed as an entry feature to the city.
Commissioners Jeff Zellner, Ron Laffranchi, and Eric Hayes hammered hard on the safety factor to lead the effort to give a negative recommendation on an effort to amend ordinances to allow the city to possibly secure a private sector firm to put such a sign in place on public property. Opposing the motion were Paraminder Sahi and Leonard Smith.
There are only two sites the city has indicated they would like to see a privately owned changeable message sign designed as an entry feature to the community with the word “Manteca” and the city logo displayed as part of the base.
One is a small parcel the city owns along Atherton Drive along the 120 Bypass directly across from the Great Wolf Lodge resort. The other is a site on the northeast corner of the Highway 99 and Austin Road interchange that Manteca owns but is now currently outside the city limits.
As chance would have it, both locations are within an area that Caltrans in 2019 studied as part of environmental study regarding a $131.5 million three-phase fix aimed at addressing safety and congestion issues at the 120 Bypass and Highway 99 interchange.
The state noted that eastbound 120 Bypass motorists — impatient about delays — will use the fast lane or inside lane to travel as far as they can to the split and then cutback into the much slower moving traffic in the right lane. That leads to rear-end collisions and an accident rate six times higher than the average for a California freeway. The stretch between Union Road and the Highway 99 interchange is the deadliest stretch of freeway in the Northern San Joaquin Valley. The “slinky effect” during afternoon commutes and at other times of high traffic volumes the sudden stopping will often start as far west of where the McKinley Avenue interchange is being built in the area prior to where the city wishes to pursue a changeable electronic billboard sign.
At the same time, northbound Highway 99 approaching the 120 Bypass interchange has been identified as an up and coming traffic congestion and safety problem.
It is the same exact area where the city’s property is located that they believe a changeable electronic billboard would be preferable along Highway 99.
It is here on many weekday mornings that not only does the outside lane on Highway 99 often comes to a stop but so does the middle lane as a number of drivers — just like they do on the 120 Bypass — wait until the last possible minute to move over so they can access the transition ramp to the westbound 120 Bypass.
The accident rate on this section of Highway 99 is now slightly more than double the state average and getting worse with each passing year.
It was noted by community development staff that the sign’s owners must comply with safety standards established by Caltrans.
City leaders spent five years bringing together nearby cities to convince Caltrans to make improvements starting in 2021 to address safety and congestion issues at the 120 Bypass and Highway 99 that impacts the entire region. The safety issues that translates into roughly an accident a day that is rarely replicated elsewhere in the state prompted Caltrans to move up work on the interchange more than 15 years of what was originally targeted in long range planning.
Zelllner also referenced the Spreckels Park electronic billboard sign that was in place up until 14 years along Highway 99 between Yosemite Avenue and the 120 Bypass. He noted the sign’s lights at night created issues for nearby residents. A number of residents in the El Rancho Mobile Home Park across the freeway at the time complained they had a hard time sleeping at night due to bright lights from the sign making it through window coverings to illuminate bedrooms and other living spaces.
Zellner wanted to make sure the privacy of residents would not be jeopardized.
Staff said current technology is much more advanced. The signs are now designed so the light levels are automatically dimmed as the skies get darker to eliminate any illumination issues. Staff also pointed out the two sites the city would consider such sign being placed are not near homes.
There is an average of 86,000 vehicles a day using the 120 Bypass.
The staff report noted such signs would allow the city to have a freeway orientated city identity features along the freeways. Additionally it would “generate civic price, identity, a sense of place, and secure a new, stable stream of revenue.”
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