Readers’ thoughts as posted on facebook about the 120 Bypass and Highway 99 landscaping projects eight years after ground was broken:
Arlena F.: So why does it look like crap?
Jahden C.: They let the landscaping die off years ago.
Alice G.: $2 million dollars well spent . . .
Linda B.: I wonder who made the landscaping decision? Why not drought tolerant succulent type plants? Rock? With a weed barrier underneath! What a waste of 2 million bucks!
Mark M.: That was an Obama shovel ready project to waste money.
Joe B.: I have an idea, everyone! Instead of complaining about the appearances how about the community gets involved to adopt a highway. After all, we live here and should be proactive to keep things looking good.
Frank F.: Keep in mind that the federal allocation had a “use it or lose it” deadline attached to it, and that Highway 120 is a state highway. By the time the state put the project on their schedule and plumbing and planting were completed, we had reached the beginning of what turned out to be a six-year drought!
Deana S.: When I saw them installing bender-board and dumping tons of “bark” in it, I was rolling my eyes. Really? (There was) nothing to keep the weeds on one side. It was less than 6 months you couldn’t even see the bark design anymore because of all the tall weeds. Feel sorry for the guys who all broke their backs to make it “temporarily” look decent. (it was a) big fat joke and stupid idea.
Marisa E.: I’m pretty sure someone got a huge kick back — isn’t that the way it works.
Rick F.: Well, I say it looks great. This town sure makes me wonder. Seriously, does anyone care?
Jason A: Smoke and mirrors. They also put bark in the monstrosity Pelandale interchange in Modesto.
Travis F.: $2 million only got them the planting funds and nothing for the upkeep. Government economic logic right there! LOL
Bill B.: I was at the City council meeting. (The former mayor) pushed aside my criticism and one city council member compared it to what Ripon was doing.
A healthy crop of tumbleweeds and thick, dried out weeds dominate the most expensive freeway landscaping project ever undertaken in the Northern San Joaquin Valley.
What Caltrans had envisioned for the 120 Bypass nearly eight years ago — especially at the 120 Bypass and Highway 99 interchange that was billed as a first for the state when it came to freeway landscape design — may not come to pass.
Today Manteca Mayor Steve DeBrum believes that state and federal authorities need to rethink the rules when it comes to highway funds and landscaping projects. When the project first came up, DeBrum as a council member expressed reservations given he had serious doubts the landscaping would fare well after the three year maintenance contract expired.
What he sees now along the 120 Bypass is a heightened fire hazard. Prior to the landscaping being planted, Caltrans would hire contractors annually to mow all of the weeds down. It is still done in the center divider and at interchanges. But along sound walls and fence lines weeds are difficult to hit with tractors given the number of bushes that were planted. In short, the landscaping effort — that was supposed to help reduce the fire hazard — may have increased it.
There is also the inadvertent byproduct of providing more cover for illegal homeless encampments.
The project spent $2,005,742.77 in federal highway funds that could only be used for freeway beautification. It involved planting more than 5,400 trees, 3,900 shrubs, and 28,700 cubic yards of mulch and 500,000 square feet of hydro seed for grass as plus the planting of vines along sound walls in a bid to soften the look and reduce the need for graffiti abatement. The improvements were made along the 120 Bypass from Highway 99 to Airport Way, elaborate woodlands planting at the 120 Bypass/99 interchange, landscaping at the Highway 99/East Highway 120 interchange and plantings along the Highway 99 corridor south of the 120 Bypass. The cost also covered the contractor maintaining and periodically watering the plantings for three years. When it was turned over to local agencies for maintenance, all 1,700 plus tree and shrubs were still living.
The City of Manteca assumed responsibility for maintaining landscaping at the Yosemite Avenue and Highway 99 interchange. At the time the annual labor and water cost to the city was pegged at $10,000. Caltrans assumed maintenance for everything else. Caltrans had made it clear from the start that they lacked the funds to maintain the landscaping which is why there was a three-year maintenance period built into the contract. The assumption was that the trees and shrubs would be firmly established by then. But just when the maintenance contract expired in May of 2015, California was in the middle of a 5-year drought.
DeBrum believed even without a drought back in 2015 when the landscaping contract was accepted as being complete, that the trees and shrubs would have a tough time making it in the dry valley summers.
“There was no one watering them,” DeBrum said Monday.
DeBrum, for his part, believes the federal and state might want to relook at the mandatory set aside for landscaping for highway projects. That could run the gamut from changing landscaping tactics to freeing up more money for road repairs instead of spending a set percentage every year on beautification.
How the $2 million
The $2 million landscaping endeavor started as a way to save Manteca taxpayers money.
It was going to cost the city $315,000 to landscape the Yosemite/Highway 99 interchange as well as put in an irrigation system and the raised brick median feature on the west side of the interchange.
Municipal staff got wind that the Obama Administration had set aside stimulus money for California transportation projects for shovel ready projects. No other agency in the state had projects ready to go that could take advantage of the $2 million plus set aside only for highway landscaping endeavors. Manteca did.
Manteca also saw it as an opportunity to landscape the Highway 99/120 Bypass interchange. City leaders approached the San Joaquin Council of Governments that serves as a regional clearing house for state and federal funds about adding the second interchange into the mix. If SJCOG was successful, it meant Measure K money that under state and federal law to secure funds from those sources also had to have set aside for landscaping could be used for landscaping projects elsewhere in the county.
The city and SJCOG — working with Caltrans — fast tracked plans for the Highway 99/120 Bypass interchange landscaping and were able to secure the stimulus funding.
The city had a long-range goal of landscaping both the Highway 120 Bypass corridor and what portions of the Highway 99 corridor they were able to do in order to change how Manteca looks to people who speed through at 55 mph.
The centerpiece of the effort was the 120 Bypass/Highway 99 interchange,
The design was a departure for Caltrans when it comes to landscaping along state freeways.
The planting scheme called for taller trees in the back with heights scaling downward towards the roadway. The evergreen trees picked for the back were similar to the ones you’ll find along Center Street and the west side of Morezone Field.
Others in the mixture included several types of oak trees, western red buds, Chinese pistache, and several others. The trees were selected for their abiliy to withstand the valley’s hot and dry summers.
They were planted with chicken wire to protect roots from gophers.
When it reached maturity, the 120 Bypass/Highway 99 interchange landscaping was expected to resemble woodlands.
At the same time mulch was 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 they could damage trees. Designing fire breaks coupled with the fact mature woodlands would minimize the growth of weeds plus block winds ultimately was expected to mean that fires which are a routine occurrence on all quadrants of the interchange during the dry season would be substantially reduced.
To contact Dennis Wyatt, email email@example.com