Cottage Avenue was never intended nor designed to be a collector street.
For close to 80 years it was a two-mile long country road that started at Lathrop Road and ended at Old Highway 120 where four of those eight decades Spreckels Sugar and its almond orchard blocked its ability to head farther south.
Things started changing shortly after 1955 when the state decided Cottage Avenue deserved a bridge across the new Highway 99 freeway that bypassed Manteca to the east and took highway traffic off of North Main Street and Moffat Boulevard. In the 1960s Antoine Raymus built the Magna Terra subdivision bounded by the triangle created by Highway 99, North Street, and Cottage Avenue where he named the streets to honor early American astronauts. At the same time Manteca Hospital — the predecessor to Doctors Hospital of Manteca — broke ground.
The increased traffic didn’t crush Cottage. That didn’t happen until Spreckels Sugar closed. The sugar refinery’s 362 acres were repurposed as a multi-use development with business park, retail, and homes. The house that stood for 60 years on the south side of Cottage’s T-intersection with Yosemite Avenue was leveled and a four-lane street punched through to Moffat. The area today is one of the city’s major retail areas.
That alone didn’t turn up the traffic volume on Cottage. It was accomplished by the City Council decision to take pressure off of the North Main Street corridor by extending Industrial Park Drive northward to meet up with Spreckels Avenue, the name given the four-lane southerly extension of Cottage Avenue.
This is when traffic volumes started jumping on Cottage. It isn’t unusual for traffic in late morning, early afternoon and around the afternoon commute hours to back up to Pine Street. At the same time, thanks in part to the Highway 99 over crossing, Cottage from the freeway to Yosemite Avenue has a well-deserved reputation as a quasi-speedway. It is what led Steve DeBrum as a council member to lead the charge to get a crosswalk and warning flashers in place on Cottage at Brookdale Way to make crossing the street — especially for kids walking to and from the 99-home neighborhood bordered by Louise, Cottage, and the freeway to reach Cowell School — safer.
In the coming months, work is expected to start on two projects that will kick up traffic and make safety more precarious. Those projects are the 480-home gated community being built to the northwest of the Louise and Cottage intersection and the low-income senior apartments planned for the southeast corner of Cottage and the freeway at the foot of the bridge.
The most dangerous intersection without a doubt will be Alameda where it T-intersects Cottage at where the entrance to the senior housing complex will be installed. Already traffic cresting then descending the bridge southbound on Cottage is almost always above the speed limit makes navigating the Alameda intersection precarious. Add in drivers from the senior housing complex trying to leave or reach their homes and it’ll be worse.
When DeBrum asked about the intersection during the approval process for the senior complex three years ago and whether a roundabout would be warranted, he was told by staff that it was a concern and they would monitor it to determine when stop signs would be needed.
Here’s a thought: Since construction hasn’t started and the land is undeveloped on the east side of the intersection, why not explore shifting the roadway to the east a bit and put a roundabout in? The traffic cresting and then descending on southbound Cottage has always gone too fast. It won’t get better. It will get worse. Add more traffic and the city is asking for it.
As for Cottage at Yosemite Avenue, there is room there to ease congestion. The left turn land could be shifted to the east a bit and two through lanes put in place.
Better yet since the city has close to $1.7 million lying around in a federal grant to modernize and make traffic signal controllers more efficient, why not change the sequence at Cottage/Yosemite/Spreckels to allow all movements of southbound traffic on Cottage to go at the same time while adding another lane? That way the middle lane could go straight onto Spreckels or left onto Yosemite while the inside learn turns left and the outside lane goes straight or turns right.
There isn’t much you can do about traffic heading north onto Cottage from Spreckels that sometimes takes two to three light changes to clear the intersection. Unless, that is, you add the other southbound lane on Cottage and reconfigure the signal sequence. With more vehicles being able to move from southbound Cottage on a green you could buy enough time to lengthen the green for vehicles on Spreckels crossing Yosemite.
And while the city is at it, they might want to think seriously about putting in the missing segment of sidewalk along with curb and gutter just north of the car wash along Cottage. It was something promised as a top priority nine years ago that has gone nowhere.
Between the roundabout, lane reconfiguration, and sidewalk — all safety or congestion relief issues — the city could make Cottage Avenue a lot better in one fell swoop.
It’s something the council might want to work into the budget in the next two years.
As it stands now there is little doubt that Cottage is hampered by becoming a collector street by default and that the congestion and safety issues are going to get worse if nothing is done to improve the situation.
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 email@example.com or 209.249.3519.