Mention McKinley Avenue with the words “interchange” or “expressway” and a small citizen army comes forth.
They have made it clear to City of Manteca leaders they do not want anything done with McKinley Avenue that would ultimately induce urbanization of the countryside just over a half mile or so south of Woodward Avenue. Many property owners have indicated during the past year that they are willing to actively fight a road project that they view as growth inducing and capable of destroying quality farmland.
They gained a small victory this past week when the City Council unanimously scrapped design work for the McKinley Avenue interchange and returned $2.8 million to the federal government. Just six months prior, Manteca leaders re-affirmed the interchange as part of its blueprint for growth.
Councilman Vince Hernandez thought it was wrong to spend the money simply because the city was on the verge of losing it. At the same time, any design the city spent the money on has a shelf life of about five years before it would have to be updated if construction doesn’t start. The city is currently juggling three other interchange improvement projects plus wants to build a new $100 million plus interchange south of Highway 99 on Austin Road. In short, there is no money identified to actually pay for construction of the $25 million McKinley interchanges.
It also doesn’t help that Lathrop – suing Manteca over not providing traffic mitigation for CenterPoint trucks that would use the Lathrop Road/Interstate 5 interchange – has taken the stance they don’t need to pay toward the McKinley Avenue improvements even though they are considering allowing more than 1,000 homes to be built less than an eighth of a mile away.
Three speakers addressed the council this past week concerned the interchange work would set the stage for the expressway that they don’t want passing through their farms and rural residential property. City staff said the expressway wasn’t included in the scope of the environmental work for the interchange. There is little doubt, though, that an interchange would increase the likelihood that the expressway would be built and would definitely generate higher volumes of traffic.
That’s because McKinley Avenue is envisioned as a connector between the proposed interchange on Highway 99 serving the 1,050-acre Austin Road Business Park and the 120 Bypass at McKinley.
The city sees the interchange as a way to further enhance the marketability of some 150 acres they own near Big League Dreams north of the 120 Bypass. It is where Great Wolf Resort is considering a 600-room resort hotel complete with a 75,000-square-foot indoor water park and conference center. It is also where the city is pondering pursing a family entrainment zone.
The vote Tuesday didn’t kill the interchange. It does, however, means it isn’t likely to move forward any time soon. The federal funds were expected to also be enough to acquire whatever land would be needed for the off and on ramps.
The expressway per se won’t be addressed again until at least 2013 when the general plan has to be updated under state law. Even then, the city must answer a bigger question first – flood control.
The mid-sections of two possible alignments are both within a 100-year flood plain. Until such time levees are enhanced or a dry cross-levee is put in place, urbanization can’t take place. City officials have also said they are not willing to pay to have a road built that could easily be damaged by floodwater.
Even so, the McKinley Avenue debate is shaping up as one that could easily exceed the community opposition back in the 1980s to the widening of Lathrop Road to accommodate northwest Manteca development.
This time instead of just a handful of homeowners, there are dozens upon dozens of impacted property owners including the Catholic Church, farmers, and many long time Manteca area families.
It is why McKinley Avenue could eventually become the road project that pits pro-growth and no-growth forces against each other in Manteca for the first time since the divisive growth cap debate in the mid-1980s.