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The $300 million question
How will Manteca cover interchange, major road costs?
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Manteca’s unparalleled freeway access for a city of 70,000 - six interchanges with surface streets along seven miles of freeway with a seventh interchange possibly on the way - is both a blessing and a curse.

The fact between those interchanges Manteca has at least four linear miles of prime retail and office development potential along the 120 Bypass at the epicenter of 1.3 million consumers in a 30-mile radius is viewed by city leaders as Manteca’s ace in the hole. So is the access to the approved 1,049-acre Austin Road Business Park along the Highway 99 corridor.

The downside was framed as a $300 million question in 2008: How is Manteca going to pay for all the interchange upgrades plus major arterials to connect with them?

Or, more precisely, who is going to pay for them?

The city’s only answer in place - a growth fee adopted 19 years ago - is considered inadequate. City leadership has said the fee and overall funding sources need to be rethought but nothing has been formally adopted since the issue was revisited five years ago.

Interchange upgrades are targeted are on the Highway 120 Bypass at Main Street, Union Road, and Airport Way, plus a new interchange at McKinley Avenue as well as Highway 99 at Austin Road. Surface streets included are typically four-lane arterials such as Atherton Drive and the proposed southern street almost a mile south of the 120 Bypass that at one time was dubbed Raymus Boulevard.

The figure would be even higher if the $496 million Highway 99 project to widen that freeway to six lanes didn’t include funding for a new six-lane interchange at Lathrop Road. The overall project is being funded by state bond receipts and Measure K transit half cent sales taxes collected countywide.

The state isn’t likely to be much help even though the bulk of the improvements are along freeways. Back in the 1960s, 25 percent of the state’s annual expenditures went to infrastructure. Today it is hovering around one percent.

The city has had some success in tapping federal sources for funds needed for studies related to interchange environmental review and design work. That money has been married with growth fees.

But how most of the work will be funded is a big question especially since one potential funding source - redevelopment agency tax receipts - was taken away this year by Sacramento in order to try and balance the state budget.

The RDA on itself would not have covered the tab.

That leaves several funding possibilities including Mell-Roos benefit tax districts and similar mechanisms. But arguably the biggest source of money could be the Public Facilities Implementation Plan fee that was conceived 19 years ago to make sure that Manteca had the roads, traffic signals, major sewer and water trunk lines, and other improvements needed as the city grew. The fee is assessed on residential construction per unit charge and commercial/industrial on a per square foot basis.

Exactly how that fee is assessed is critical. Putting too much on the back of business parks and retail complexes could drive away jobs and potential sales tax critical for the ongoing funding of day-to-day municipal services.

On the flip side, if the city taps into too many sources that are used to maintain its existing street system that has almost 200 linear miles streets already in place could start falling apart.

Whatever course the city takes, there is agreement an equitable funding formula for fees needs to be in place before growth starts picking up again since the city can’t retroactively collect new or increased fees once a permit is issued. At the same time, the city can only make new growth pay for its “fair share” of any infrastructure improvement including major roads and interchanges.