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Mother Nature gets $1.4M boost from Obama bucks
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The long-awaited Highway 99 landscaping at the twin Highway 120 interchanges is finally in the pipeline.

Work is expected to start within a month on the irrigation portion of the improvements for the Highway 99/Yosemite Avenue (Highway 120) interchange with bids being solicited for the actual landscaping at the same time.

Bids are also being readied for landscaping at the Highway 99/Highway 120 Bypass were up to 1,700 trees and shrubs – primarily native species - are expected to be planted.

It is all being made possible through some $1.4 million in American Recovery Act money that is part of the federal government’s $700 billion stimulus grants.

The Obama Administrations’ grant freed up close to $400,000 in San Joaquin County Council of Governments’ Measure K half cent taxes earmarked specifically for landscaping transportation projects so it can go for other purposes. At the same time, the additional money fast forwarded the landscaping at the Highway 120 Bypass and Highway 99 interchange that wasn’t expected to happen for years.

The actual landscaping for the two interchanges is being put to bid separately.

The landscaping portion will require the contractor awarded the project to maintain it for three years. That means the city won’t incur any maintenance costs until late 2013 for the Highway 99/Yosemite Avenue interchange. The city has put a cost for upkeep on that interchange’s landscaping due to its ornamental nature at more than $30,000 a year including labor, water, and replacement costs.

The Highway 99 and Highway 120 Bypass will also include a three-year maintenance requirement for whoever wins the bid. But unlike the other interchange, a water truck will be used instead to irrigate the trees and shrubs. Three years is about the time it is expected for the native species to become established so they can weather the dry valley summer and early fall.

When it reaches maturity, the 120 Bypass/Highway 99 interchange landscaping will resemble woodlands.  The design is a departure for Caltrans when it comes to landscaping along state freeways.
The planting scheme calls for taller trees in the back with heights scaling downward towards the roadway. The evergreen trees picked for the back are similar to the ones you’ll find along Center Street and the west side of Morezone Field.

Others in the mixture includes several oak trees, western red buds, Chinese pistache, and several others.

They are being planted with chicken wire to protect roots from gophers.

At the same time mulch will be placed in such a manner to serve as a fire break to slow down any fires to allowing firefighters a chance to knock down grass fires hopefully in time before they can damage trees. Designing fire breaks coupled with the fact mature woodlands would minimize the growth of weeds plus block winds could ultimately mean that fires which are a routine occurrence on all quadrants of the interchange during the dry season will be substantially reduced.

The projects are a combination effort of the city, Caltrans and SJCOG.