Manteca for a city of 83,750 has unparalleled freeway access in terms of interchanges.
There are six existing interchanges — three each along Highway 99 and the 120 Bypass. That doesn’t count the 120 Bypass/Highway 99 interchange as it does not access city streets. When the McKinley Avenue interchange is built, Manteca will have seven interchanges — one more than Modesto a city that is almost three times Manteca’s size.
Having that many interchanges is a blessing and a curse.
With an interchange every mile of the 120 Bypass plus nearly the same along Highway 99 there isn’t a spot in Manteca that isn’t within a 2.5 mile drive of freeway access. In addition Manteca has arguably the largest freeway frontage between interchanges available for business park and commercial development in what is California’s fastest growing region.
The level of access costs money, hence the curse.
Most of the original interchanges were built in the Golden Age of Freeway Construction in California when the state picked up the entire tab. That is no longer the case. The Yosemite Avenue-Highway 99 upgrade was made possible by $6 million obtained by then Congressman Richard Pombo as a federal freeway demonstration project. The Lathrop Road replacement interchange was made possible in part by a special statewide upgrade bond for the Highway 99 corridor that required a substantial local match via Measure K sales tax receipts. The $30 million plus McKinley Avenue interchange due to break ground in the next few years has a healthy mixture of regional fees (most of which was collected off growth in Manteca), Measure K, and federal money.
The reason why the previous council 18 months ago dropped the $75 million Raymus interchange on Highway 99 midway between Austin Road and Jack Tone Road as well as a the $15 million Roth Road extension interchange between Lathrop Road and French Camp Road from targeted road projects for the more robust road charge incorporated in the Public Facilities Improvement Plan (PFIP) fee is simple. The city couldn’t afford to build the two interchanges as well as upgrade existing interchanges, build the McKinley Avenue interchange, address a long list of needed surface arterial street improvements including missing segments of four-lane corridors, and make other community-wide major street upgrades. The fee charged on new growth can only collect what share of the need development creates. That means roughly 40 percent of the cost for completing the identified $215 million worth of interchange projects and other major road work needed by 2040 has to be secured either from existing residents or other sources other than a fee on growth.
On Tuesday Mayor Ben Cantu made a pitch to forge ahead with both the Raymus and Roth Road interchanges. Cantu deserves a thumb up for the Roth suggestion and a thumb down for the Raymus revival proposal.
Cantu pushed for a bold land rezone as Manteca grows north that would have everything north of a Roth Road extension from Airport Way to Highway 99 be developed as a muscular business park to snag large distribution centers and such. It would serve as a truck route to the emerging North Airport Way business parks as well plus provide an Interstate 5 to Highway 99 truck route that avoids Lathrop Road and its accompanying residential neighborhoods.
Given there is a distinctive area of benefit especially if roughly half of the future area being annexed to the north comes into Manteca with the expressed purpose of it being business parks the city could easily impose a targeted fee on the land as it develops to build the Roth Road interchange.
Cantu’s idea for the Raymus interchange gets a thumb down for three reasons.
First the area where the interchange will immediately serve — the 1,040-acre Austin Business Park annexation — already is part of the mathematics for the existing PFIP fee.
Second, the state is giving Manteca a gift horse of sorts with the third phase of the 120 Bypass/99 solution that will make the Austin Road interchange extremely robust to handle vehicle and truck traffic. The price tag of $70 million has yet to be covered and even if it is on the city’s dime it is less expensive than the Raymus solution that requires shifting the freeway and bridging the railroad as well. Besides with Atherton Drive curving south and the fact Austin Road is going in place there will not be a spot in the entire extreme southeast Manteca were the Raymus interchange was proposed that will be more than 2 miles from an interchange. The only reason a Raymus interchange would make sense is if the city wanted a bypass of the freeway system for those commuting from south of the Stanislaus River to the Bay Area.
Third the city sooner or later needs to address the interchanges on the Bypass at Main Street and Union Road as well as widen Cottage Avenue over Highway 99. Assuming diverging diamonds would work at those two locations as is being built at Union Road, there is at last a $50 million price tag. While it is a significant saving over widening the existing interchanges which would require demolishing the bridge decks and obtaining more land to make them a partial or full cloverleaf the cost will be borne 100 percent locally. The city also has to find a way to widen the bridge on Louise Avenue across Highway 99.
Pursuing a Raymus interchange would be akin to rolling the dice and going for broke. It is partially if not entirely redundant with the plans now in place for Austin Road but it also smacks of overkill that the city can’t afford to bankroll.
Cantu during his State of the City address campaigned for a “loop road” in east Manteca. Rethinking Austin Road to allow a large and gentle “S” in the alignment like Cantu envisions for the Roth Road extension would allow Austin to be part of that loop road.
It makes sense for a number of reasons. Pursuing a course that makes Austin Road four lanes north to Lathrop and eventually Roth Road would literally involve taking land away from hundreds of small parcels with homes along the road. To widen Austin to four lanes would be a nightmare and quite costly given most of it would be on the city’s dime as large scale development is for the most part unlikely along the existing corridor. Turning Austin Road to the east and then swinging it back northward and then swinging it west to connect with a Roth Road alignment is a strategy similar to how Atherton Drive is unfolding in South Manteca. That way it would go through mostly undeveloped area farther to the east with relatively large parcels that can be developed making it feasible to put the bulk of the cost of the roadway on the back of developers.
Besides if the Raymus interchange were built, the bulk of the area closest to it on the east side of Highway 99 is within Ripon’s sphere of influence and not Manteca’s.
Extending Roth Road to Highway 99 where an interchange would be built is solid planning and economically feasible if a fee to pay for it is in place before Manteca continues annexing to the north.
Building an interchange for Raymus may satisfy textbook planning impulses but it makes little financial sense, is partially redundant at best, and it’s overall benefit to Manteca given the $75 million price tag and the plan for Austin Road is minimal.
This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 209.249.3519.