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Uncle, can you spare $120M?
Manteca may lobby DC for interchange funds
It will cost over $100 million to build a new Austin Road interchange on Highway 99. - photo by HIME ROMERO

Manteca needs to build two interchanges considered essential for major private sector development aimed at generating over 17,000 jobs over the next 20 years.

The $120 million question has to be answered first: Where will Manteca get the money?

Part of that question may be answered by Uncle Sam.

The City Council on Tuesday is being asked by staff to identify a new Austin Road interchange on Highway 99 and the McKinley Avenue-120 Bypass interchange project as key lobbying targets during the upcoming 2012 San Joaquin One Voice trip to Washington, D.C.

The plan would be to seek federal dollars for planning and environmental work related to the Austin Road project and money for the final design and construction of the McKinley Avenue interchange.

Some 15,000 jobs could be impacted by the Austin Road project. It would provide access to two major projects – the 1,050-acre Austin Road Business Park that has the promise of 13,000 jobs – and Yosemite Square. ANF Development is involved in both projects. They are the firm that helped bring almost 2,500 jobs to Manteca through the conversion of the shuttered Spreckels Sugar plant into Spreckels Park.

McKinley will serve identified development that includes Great Wolf Resort and a family entertainment zone that could bring 2,000 permanent jobs to Manteca. In addition, there is other nearby areas zoned for business parks that have no active plans.

The city may be able to wed federal funds with growth-related fees collected for transportation. They also could possibly use redevelopment agency funds depending upon the agency’s legal status pending a lawsuit between California redevelopment agencies and the State of California.

Ironically, the city less than two months ago was on the verge of returning $2.8 million in federal funds to Washington that had been obtained more than six years ago for the McKinley Avenue project.

In October, the council unanimously voted to return the money instead of fast-tracking McKinley just to spend it before a federal deadline.

But after discovering there was no other alternative to provide enhanced traffic flow for the proposed Great Wolf resort and 100-acre family entertainment zone, the council backed off on a split vote.

What’s at stake is the city’s bid to land 500 jobs and generate as much as $6 million a year in room tax to support municipal services.

Councilman Steve DeBrum - who is part of the council committee negotiating with Great Wolf Resorts to bring a 600-room hotel, 75,000-square-foot indoor water park, and 30,000-square-foot conference center to Manteca just west of Costco on city owned land - has indicated he expects the private sector project to move forward in January. Great Wolf would provide the 500 jobs plus room tax receipts.

It will take about $20 million to convert McKinley into a full-blown interchange. By contrast it will cost over $100 million for a new interchange on Highway 99 south of Austin Road. The Austin project is more expensive since Caltrans is requiring a new crossing farther to the south that would require shifting the freeway as well as clearing the railroad tracks.

What is riding on the proposed Great Wolf Resort is best framed not simply in the 500 year-round jobs and the fact that it is expected to draw other family entertainment related businesses to locate in Manteca. Just as big a stake is the estimated $4 million to $6 million in room taxes that conservative projections by the city show a 600-room Great Wolf Resort cold generate in a typical year. The lower figure is equal to almost a quarter of the $26 million the city now collects for all existing revenue sources each year to pay for general fund operations ranging room police and fire to parks and streets.

Caltrans is expected to require Manteca provide an additional access point to the 120 Bypass besides Airport Way to handle traffic volume expected to be generated d by the Great Wolf Resort, the nearby family entertainment zone and an accompanying 100 acres of commercial.