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General plan advisory committee meets tonight
A proposal by Caltrans to upgrade the Austin Road interchange may make plans for an interchange to the south on Highway 99 unnecessary. - photo by Bulletin file photo

The proposed Raymus Expressway interchange on Highway 99 was envisioned as part of a direct freeway-to-freeway connection from the 120 Bypass at the McKinley Avenue interchange expected to break ground by 2020 and Highway 99.

Rural South Manteca residents who are in limbo about where the city plans on running a cross levee through their country neighborhood also do not know where the Raymus Expressway alignment will go.

They have formed a group that is fighting the expressway that has been the most controversial road project envisioned by Manteca leaders in at least 30 years.

The Raymus Expressway is part of the transportation and circulation discussion the General Plan Advisory Committee is having tonight when they meet at 6 o’clock at the Manteca Transit Center, 220 Moffat Blvd.

The Raymus Expressway is included in the 2011 traffic element that is part of the general plan package that helps serve as a blueprint for growth. Getting the proposed Highway 99 interchange taken out of the general plan’s traffic element would be a measured victory by the rural group as it would at least change expected traffic  volumes for the rest of the envisioned expressway between Airport Way and South Main Street.

Exactly how Raymus Expressway plays out — as a four lane arterial or a major two-lane street — depends what happens when it reaches South Main Street north of Sedan Avenue. 

It had been envisioned to extend over Highway 99 as a six-lane road as part of a new interchange that had been priced in excess of $100 million as it would have to cross the railroad tracks as well meaning the freeway would have to be shifted to the east.

A council decision and a pending Caltrans-city collaboration may take a Raymus interchange off the table. That’s why plans for the 1,532-home Griffin Park neighborhood along the west side of Main Street south of Woodward Avenue was approved earlier this year with enough space for Raymus Expressway to cut through the neighborhood as a four-lane road. But if the city opts to go to two lanes due to the Highway 99 interchange not going forward, developers plan to make it a heavily landscaped two-lane road.

Manteca’s current general plan calls for two new interchanges on Highway 99.

One is for the envisioned eastern extension of Lovelace Road midway between the French Camp Road and Lathrop Road interchanges.

The other is for the proposed Raymus Expressway midway between the Austin Road and Jack Tone interchanges.

Both proposed interchanges are part of the current traffic circulation element.

That runs contrary to what the architects of the general plan — the elected City Council — has deemed what will happen.

In September the council essentially pulled the plug on both proposed 99 interchanges by determining Manteca could afford neither when they adopted new transportation fees for growth.

The directive to drop the Raymus/Highway 99 interchange cut $75 million from the projected bill of building major roads to accommodate growth. Dropping the envisioned interchange midway between French Camp Road and Lathrop Road on Highway 99 for a proposed extension of Lovelace Road saves another $15 million and avoids repeating the ill will that the city’s efforts to determine a route for the Raymus Expressway through a large swath of rural South Manteca has caused.

To get the cost of the growth projects down to $215,807,783 the latest fees reduced the cost charged to growth for all remaining interchange/overcrossing work on Highway 99 (widening Louise Avenue and Cottage Avenue bridges as an example) by 30 percent saving $27 million. That means if the city want to pursue widening those freeway crossing they will have to seek out other sources to cover the funding gap.

The decision essentially changed two major assumptions that were incorporated into the 2011 traffic element for future traffic flow north of Lathrop Road as well as south of Atherton Drive.

The decision made it almost a forgone conclusion that Manteca will refuse to allow the closure of Austin Road access on Highway 99 to accommodate Caltrans plans to improve safety and traffic efficiency at the 120 Bypass and Highway 99 interchange.

Originally Austin Road would have lost access to and from the freeway when an interchange was built by extending Raymus Expressway across Highway 99.

In the preliminary Caltrans plans targeted to allow upgrades to the 99-120 Bypass/Austin Road interchanges to be completed by 2023, the project would be designed to allow heavy traffic volume — including trucks from the envisioned Austin Road Business Park — to access the freeway.

That would likely make a Raymus interchange moot or a very costly redundancy given how close they would be to each other.

The city could end up modifying future major arterials in southwest Manteca. It may have no other choice given they have already determined they won’t have the money to build the Raymus interchange.

That opens the door to modify plans for the Raymus Expressway.