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Mantecas freeway to the future
120 Bypass serves as catalyst for retail, jobs investment
Bass Pro Shops was lured to the busy Highway 120 Bypass. - photo by HIME ROMERO
Adriana Gianturcco – the ironfisted transportation director of the first Jerry Brown administration – was against it.

The California Transportation Commission that must approve all highway projects in the state was equally adamant that it wouldn’t be built.

But persistent grassroots pressure including blanket distribution of information to travelers caught in hellacious Manteca traffic jams on Fridays and Sundays and an aggressive effort to enlist the support of media outlets in the influential Bay Area set the stage for the shoulder tap that changed Manteca forever – the building of the Highway 120 Bypass.

Jack Snyder – the Manteca councilman who had taken the point in the community effort to end the five-mile plus long traffic jams that paralyzed Manteca from Bay Area residents going to and from the Sierra – was invited by then Assemblyman Carmen Perino to a fundraiser for then Gov. Jerry Brown in Stockton.

Perino instructed Snyder to make sure he was there and to be the last one in line to go up and shake the governor’s hand.

When the moment arrived, Brown ignored Snyder and engaged in a conversation with someone else. Perino tapped Brown on the shoulder. Perino then told Brown, “governor, the guy who needs the 120 Bypass is here to talk to you.”

The full-court press was so effective that at that point Brown – who was preparing to run for president – shook Snyder’s hand and said ”you’ve got  it.”

Gianturrco’s opposition disappeared as did that of the CTC. State funding for the 120 Bypass was approved in 1976.

“Ordinary people working hard can fight city hall,” Snyder said.

Not everyone was thrilled the 120 Bypass would be built. Many merchants along Yosemite Avenue – particularly restaurants and gas stations that benefitted from bumper-to-bumper weekend traffic – were adamantly against it. They believed it would kill off business in Manteca.

Ironically 34 years later the Highway 120 Bypass is the catalyst for economic development in Manteca. It is responsible for getting outside residents to spend money in Manteca from retail to hotel rooms thanks to venues such as Big League Dreams and Bass Pro Shops that have highly visible freeway locations with easy access.

“No one thought of the economic potential back then,” said Snyder.

The main thing driving Manteca’s push for the 120 Bypass was to make it possible for local residents to get around town.

Without the Highway 120 Bypass, Snyder doubts Spreckels Park would have been such a hot commodity. The shuttered sugar plant - thanks to the decision to build the 120 Bypass - filled 360 acres on the quadrant of what had become one of the interchanges with the highest exposure in the Northern San Joaquin Valley. It was a prime location because it is at the juncture of two freeways.

The success of Spreckels Park prompted key investors to secure options onland along the 120 Bypass corridors. Prior to 1998, not a single home had been built south of the 120 Bypass.

Mayor Willie Weatherford noted the unparalleled freeway access - there are three interchanges within three miles and a fourth interchange on the way at McKinley to make it four in four miles - with high traffic count plus undeveloped land that made it possible for Manteca to snag Bass Pro Shops as well as other ventures. It is also one of the reasons why Big league Dreams is a success as the 120 Bypass is a connector to Highway 99 and Interstate 5 to provide easy regional access.

Weatherford said the 120 Bypass also played a key role in Manteca snagging Great Wolf Resorts’ attention and their proposal to invest up to $200 million in what could ultimately be a 600-room hotel, 70,000-square-foot indoor water park, and 60,000-square-foot conference center.

The 120 Bypass was built with ample room for expansion and widening of bridges across the freeway.

The mayor believes an effort may have to get underway in the next four years to push for adding a third lane in each direction. The biggest roadblock is the need to have two transition lanes onto southbound Highway 99 to ease the daily commute slowdown. That could happen once the city is able to secure a new interchange on Highway 99 south of Austin Road. Such a move would eliminate the on and off ramps at Austin Road.

Snyder noted that the 120 Bypass was truly a community endeavor. He pointed out Manteca Unified School District put up some money toward making the Union Road crossing possible.  The state originally only wanted to provide crossings that were actually interchanges at Airport Way and Main Street. The state didn’t favor Union Road being extended across the freeway. The school district was concerned about bus service to areas south of the 120 Bypass.

It wasn’t until 1995 that the Union Road overcrossing was turned into a full blown interchange.