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Mayor wants regional push for 120 work
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Death and mayhem on the 120 Bypass isn’t just a Manteca concern.
On Tuesday, Mayor Steve DeBrum is asking his fellow council members to authorize him to take the next step in launching a regional campaign aimed at getting a  solution in place to reduce the carnage on arguably the deadliest six miles of freeway in the Northern San Joaquin Valley sooner than later.
The City Council is being asked to authorize letters to Caltrans, the CHP, the San Joaquin County Council of Governments, State Senator Cathleen Galgiani, and Assembly Member Kristen Olsen to formally follow up on contacts DeBrum has already made in a bid to cement regional unity not just behind envisioned improvements but to move up the timetable for work to be done.
“Waiting until 2020 or 2023 or later is not acceptable,” DeBrum told the Manteca Rotary during a talk Thursday at Ernie’s Rendezvous Room.
DeBrum said he hopes to be able to devise a list of the hometowns of the people involved in the 407 accidents on the 120 Bypass since Nov. 1, 2010 that the Manteca Fire Department responded on the section of the freeway that runs through the city. That is in addition to what city officials believe are the “hundreds” of CHP only calls regarding accidents on the Bypass during the same period where medical and fire services were not dispatched.
The mayor believes it will demonstrate that deaths and major injuries as well as significant property loss is borne by people throughout the region and not just Manteca residents. He then hopes to use that to convince elected leaders on Modesto, Turlock, Ripon, and elsewhere of the need to improve the safety of the commute for many of their residents.
Of the 407 accidents Manteca Fire responded to during that five-year period, 63 percent or 259 resulted in an injury. There were also nine deaths.
The bulk of those accidents are occurring between Main Street and Highway 99 on the eastbound lanes of the 120 Bypass.
The mayor is hoping that community members join in a grassroots campaign to push for improvements as soon as possible to the Bypass. He noted Manteca resident Judy Minton already has garnered over 1,000 followers to a Facebook page she launched and dubbed “Highway 120 East at Highway 99” in a bid to build grassroots support for 120 Bypass safety improvements.
DeBrum is aiming for a multi-media blitz similar to what helped convince state officials to build the Bypass built ahead of schedule in the first place through radio and print as well as utilizing social media.
Caltrans officials have noted that warning signs using real time traffic conditions are being proposed not only for the 120 Bypass but also along Highway 99 as it approaches the interchange.
The automated warning system would include changeable message boards specifically for traffic slowdowns. It would include four monitoring stations and a closed circuit TV station. It is designed to increase awareness of real time traffic conditions and allow motorists to adjust to traffic congestion ahead.
Caltrans is targeting environmental clearance next spring with construction in fall of 2016.
DeBrum said virtually every driver in Manteca knows about the slowdown coming up on the transition to southbound Highway 99 and how many impatient drivers — or motorists unfamiliar with the 120 Bypass — will cut over at the last second causing the right lane traffic flow to suddenly slow down. The vast majority of the accidents are rear-end collisions caused by the “Slinky” effect of the right lane during heavy traffic.
DeBrum is hoping a regional effort will get work started on adding connector lanes from the 120 Bypass to Highway 99  by at least 2019 if not sooner. The SJCOG is working with Caltrans with the tentative goal is to have plans and documents in place to capture future transportation funding with a Measure K match to have the work done by 2019.
SJCOG has also added a project to its list of targeted future endeavors to widen the 120 Bypass to six lanes at a cost of $95 million. The earliest that could happen currently is in 2040.
The council meets at 7 p.m. at the Civic Center, 1001 W. Center St.