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The (3.7) million dollar look
Massive Manteca landscaping projects under way
Charles Hayler, left, and Public Works Director Mark Houghton inspect landscaping progress at the Highway 120 Bypass/Highway 99 interchange. - photo by DENNIS WYATT

Manteca’s million dollar look - actually more like $3.7 million look - is moving forward.

It will transform the tumbleweed growing grounds at the Highway 120 Bypass/Highway 99 interchange into mini-woodlands. Manteca’s much maligned “front door” at the Highway 99/Yosemite Avenue interchange consisting historically of weeds and burnt grass will give way to a lush and colorful assortment of shrubs with a few trees tossed in as plantings mature.

Between the two interchanges some 1,700 trees and shrubs are being planted on 50 acres.

And that’s just the first $1.4 million.

The next step involves awarding a $2.3 million contract for over 5,400 trees, 3,900 shrubs, and 28,700 cubic yards of mulch and 500,000 square feet of hydro seed for grass as well as irrigation systems to support the plantings. It is for landscaping stretches from Austin Road to French Camp Road on the Highway 99 corridor and from Highway 99 to Interstate 5 along the 120 Bypass corridors. The project also includes planting of vines along sound walls in a bid to soften the look and reduce the need for graffiti abatement.

The $3.7 million does not include landscaping for the new Lathrop Road/Highway 99 interchange expected to get under construction in 2013 at the latest. Landscaping is included in that project being funded primarily by Proposition 1B bond money and receipts from the Measure K sales tax.

Crews are days away from completing the planting work for the first two interchanges. After that, a three-year maintenance period starts where the contractor will be responsible for keeping plantings watered, weeds out, mowing grass, cleaning up litter, and replacing any trees or shrubs that die.

In both cases the contactor delayed completing the initial weed removal to get trees and shrubs in the ground before it got too cold. The clean-up work will be done within the next week as the final trees are planted.

“This just blows the doors off any other landscaping project I’ve been involved with,” noted Charles Hayler of Caltrop that is overseeing the contracted work for Manteca.

He’s not the only one that believes this could be the biggest interchange landscaping project of its kind in the state. Mulch Masters - the Southern California firm that is supplying the 10,000 cubic feet of mulch being laid 4 inches thick for maximum weed control - has said it is the biggest single project they have ever been involved with.

The 120/99 interchange involves creating massive planting islands covered with mulch with a 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. And just like those planted in the early 1970s, the evergreens today look like mere twigs.

“Not all of the trees planted are native but they were all picked because they can survive and thrive without irrigation after three years,” noted Manteca Public Works Director Mark Houghton.

Among the tree mix are a couple of oak tree varieties, western red buds, Chinese pistache, and several others.

Beneath that mulch is an above ground pressurized drip system that will be filled from water trucks that the contractor will operate. They will use non-potable water from shallow wells such as the ones used to irrigate a number of municipal parks. That way expensive drinking water won’t be used for landscape irrigation. All of the trees are protected from gophers with chicken wire baskets beneath them.

The mulch - which requires an intense flame to burn - along with the contractor’s mowing of the non-planted areas is expected to significantly reduce fire hazards.

In past years as many as 30 grass fires occur a year along the 120 Bypass and Highway 99 corridors through Manteca.

Federal stimulus funds paying for work
The overall $3.7 million tab is being covered by federal stimulus funds.

Houghton pointed out that some have been critical of spending the money for landscaping. He noted, though, there is legally no other way that the money can be spent since it is committed exclusively for transit system enhancement which is essentially landscaping.

“If we didn’t apply and get the money it would have been spent on landscaping somewhere else in California,” Houghton said. “The people of Manteca got a pretty good deal.”

The 99/120 Bypass landscaping benefited from a last-minute application. Several days before the federal deadline to apply for federal stimulus money, the Fresno office of Caltrans alerted the San Joaquin Council of Governments about the landscaping project they had drafted plans for years ago but there was no funding available. Caltrans also currently lacks the manpower to oversee such a project.

SJCOG contacted the City of Manteca and an application was put together at the last minute.

Manteca became the lead agency.

An agreement with Caltrans makes Manteca responsible for maintaining the Yosemite/Highway 99 landscaping after three years. It is expected to cost about $30,000 a year between manpower, water, and electricity to run the irrigation lines.

The other landscaping is the responsibility for the first three years of the contractor. After that it is Caltrans’ responsibility.

The prospect of any landscaping work being down at the 99/120 Bypass within the next 20 years using state funds was virtually nil.