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Metering for Austin Road ramp to 99
ramp meter
Ramp metering similar to what is shown will go in on the Highway 99 onramps at Austin Road. - photo by Photo Contributed

Manteca’s first ramp metering — red and green lights that control the flow of traffic onto a freeway — will be installed on the onramps to Highway 99 at Austin Road.

It is all part of a $2.25 million interchange upgrade bid  the  City Council is expected to award Tuesday to upgrade of the Austin Road/Highway 99 interchange set the stage for a 1,050-acre project that could add 9,134 direct jobs or close to 40 percent of the existing jobs already in Manteca.

George Reed Inc. was the low bidder against three other contractors.

The project is being paid for with $1.5 million collected from growth over the past several years. That means those that bought new homes built in Manteca or developers that contracted business parks and retail centers are footing the bill for the work. The Austin Road Business Park partners are chipping in $400,000 while the San Joaquin County Council of Governments is expected to contribute the remaining $350,000

The Caltrans requirement for ramp metering  is a nod to the fact the freeway at that point is heavily congested due to 120 Bypass eastbound traffic heading south onto Highway 99. The traffic currently causes backups daily on the 120 Bypass sometimes as far back as Airport Way. Once Highway 99 is widened to three lanes from the Crosstown Freeway in Stockton to the 120 Bypass the lane — that is now dedicated exclusively to 120 traffic that is heading onto 99 — will turn into a merge lane. That is expected to further because back-up issues which is where the metering ramp comes into play.

Ramps at the Austin Road and Highway 99 interchange will be widened including allowing the southbound off ramp to 99 to have two left turn lanes and a right turn lane.

There would also be traffic signals at the off ramps as well as Austin Road or Moffat Boulevard. The Austin/Moffat traffic signals would be tied into the Union Pacific cross arms similar to signals at Moffat and Industrial Park Drive/Spreckels Avenue.

The improvements would allow the addition of more truck traffic through the Austin/Moffat intersection to reach distribution centers and such expected to locate in the 600-acre business park that’s part of the overall Austin Road Business Park.

Currently southbound traffic on Moffat often backs up past Woodward Avenue during the afternoon commute period. Widening to Moffat four lanes will ease some of that congestion.

In addition there wil be two northbound lanes that will go down to one at Woodward as the left lane would be dedicated to traffic heading into Woodward.

Next phases

The work for widening the railroad crossing on Austin Road to accommodate four lanes is in a separate phase of improvements. The third phase of public improvements such as streets plus sewer, water, and storm pipe systems to provide access and service to the business park is expected to start this year as well and would, include bringing Austin Road south of the interchange up to federal standards for truck traffic. It will cover work on Austin Road from the railroad tracks south to the actual business park portion of the 1,050-acre project.

Ultimately, the existing interchange will be replaced with a new one with a six or eight lane bridge deck that would cross both the freeway and railroad. It would be located about midway between the 120 Bypass and Jack Tone Road and would serve future growth in both Ripon and Manteca. The existing interchange is too close to allow a substantial increase in traffic movements that would come with the commercial and retail portion of the Austin Road Business Park project. Caltrans has agreed to allow upgrades to the current interchange to allow the employment center portion of the project to start development.

The location of the future interchange could impact the proposed alignment of a major east-west road that many rural South Manteca residents are watching with a wary eye. That road essentially would connect with a proposed interchange at McKinley Avenue in the 120 Bypass and swing eastward to connect with the new interchange on Highway 99. Moving it farther south could take that east-west road into not just farmland but the 100-year flood zone as well. That can’t happen, though unless dry levees are built to protect the area.

Then there is the question of who will pay for the interchange and how much.

The Austin Road Business Park project is so big it has the potential to:

Generate 10,200 residents or about a seventh of the existing population of Manteca.

Convert 1,049 acres from farming and rural residential use to urban development.

Add 3.5 million square feet of general commercial or about 26 times the square footage of the Manteca Costco store.

Generate 8 million square feet of industrial/business park, and office use or space equal to 17 times the coverage area of the Ford Motor Parts distribution center on Spreckels Avenue.

It also includes 84 acres that are zoned for mixed commercial and a retail use which means it could involve condos above stores or large condo, apartment, or townhouse projects interwoven with commercial uses.

The residential alone represents the potential of creating $1.02 billion in today’s dollars.