The solution to reduce carnage on the 120 Bypass and ease congestion at the freeway’s interchange with Highway 99 will require a major revamp of the Austin Road interchange.
There are two options. Either put in place elaborate ramps with the one for eastbound 120 Bypass traffic wanting to exit to Austin Road starting before the Bypass transition ramps to southbound Highway 99 or close all ramps to and from Austin Road.
In either case the existing Austin Road overcrossing would be torn down and replaced with a new span that clears Highway 99, Moffat Boulevard and the Union Pacific Railroad tracks. It would also mean Moffat in its existing alignment would no longer connect with Austin.
Those were the two basic scenarios being advanced by Caltrans and the San Joaquin Council of Governments as the viable alternative to improve safety and traffic flow through the key Northern San Joaquin Valley interchange for commuting and movement of goods as well as to reduce the deaths and accidents on the Bypass that has become the deadliest stretch of freeway in the 209 region.
Kevin Sheridan, the SJCOG project manager for the 99/120 effort, shared the alternatives with the Manteca City Council Tuesday night. A series of workshops are planned in the coming months to obtain community input to determine the preferred option.
The alternate that would cost the most and push the project toward the $80 million mark would keep access open to Highway 99 at Austin Road. It could also delay final completion on upgrades by a year or so due to the need to acquire 55.8 acres as opposed to only 7.2 acres with the option that closes Austin Road ramps
“I’d hate to see it jammed up (access eliminated at Austin) just to speed things up,” Councilman Gary Singh said.
It was a sentiment echoed the by the rest of the council.
Sheridan noted the project could be constructed in phases to get the more critical improvements in place to address the back-up issues on the eastbound 120 Bypass in place while funding is secured for the rest of the project. He added that even if the ramps were initially closed that they could be added at a future date.
Councilman Richard Silverman expressed reservations with such a strategy as it would eliminate freeway access to Highway 99 south of the 120 Bypass as growth is shifting significantly to south Manteca. Existing residents wishing to reach Modesto would have to drive north to the Bypass in order to reach Highway 99.
Mayor Steve DeBrum — who is advocating Austin Road to be a STAA route for larger trucks — noted eliminating the ramps as well as the connection to Moffat would increase his one way trip from his Austin Road home to the postal annex on Industrial Park Drive by 10 minutes.
Such a scenario would mean what truck traffic now uses Austin to reach distribution centers in Spreckels Park would be added to truck traffic already using Yosemite Avenue to do so.
Sheridan said the option that makes Austin Road a highly functional interchange could eliminate the need for Manteca to pursue the Raymus Expressway interchange midway between Austin and Jack Tone roads. Five years ago the Raymus interchange was estimated to cost at least $90 million due to the need to shift Highway 99 to the east to make it work.
Regardless of the design alternate chosen, the upgrades would:
uadd a lane in the median in each direction from Main Street to Highway 99 to widen that stretch of the 120 Bypass to six lanes.
uend up with two transition lanes from eastbound 120 to southbound Highway 99.
uend up with two transition lanes from northbound Highway 120 to westbound 120.
uwiden Highway 99 to eight lanes from the 120 Bypass to roughly midway between Austin and Jack Tone to allow traffic to merge smoothly.
The most expensive component would be two “sky bridges” over Moffat and the railroad tracks pegged at between $20 million and $30 million.
The goal is to get into the environmental phase in early 2018 and the design phase by late 2018. The goal would be to start construction in 2019-2020.
Funding has yet to be secured for the project regardless of the alternative.
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