There is little doubt the diverging diamond interchange being built at the 120 Bypass and Union Road — the first ever in California — is positioned to serve as an answer to a lot of expensive and frustrating situations that exit along the Golden State freeway system.
The basic design of through lanes crossing each other just before the start of one side of the overpass and then crossing back after reaching the other side creates a tight footprint. That means a two-lane overpass being pressured by growth in traffic can be converted into a four-lane overpass by simply expanding the structure on either side to add lane capacity.
At the same time since there are no left turns across traffic given how the bridge lanes switch over twice, no additional space is needed for the ramps to get a flow and volume movement that is superior to a full blown cloverleaf. That means there is no expensive and lengthy process needed to condemn nearby property.
Since there are no left turn movements across traffic, potential collision points are not only reduced but the much more damaging in terms of property and human life — T-bone crashes — are eliminated.
And with the need only for two signal clearance movements instead of six or more, the time spent clearing the overpass or moving to and from the freeway via ramps is reduced substantially.
The Manteca decision to incorporate a pedestrian/bicycle bridge — something that is a rare in a diverging diamond — eliminates the need for those on foot to cross a busy four-lane road twice just to get to the other side. The pedestrian bridge also takes out crossing on ramps and off ramps that is a major safety challenge for pedestrians as anyone knows who has tried to navigate Yosemite Avenue on foot by passing through the interchange with Highway 99.
The cost even with the pedestrian bridge is $8 million to $10 million less than had Union Road been updated to even a half cloverleaf. It moves traffic quicker. It has less collision points for vehicles. And as an added bonus the construction time is a lot shorter.
Once most people are told the advantages of a diverging diamond interchange they get the concept even though they arguably won’t be hooked completely until they drive a completed diverging diamond interchange.
What at least a few people have asked is, “why Union Road and not Airport Way or Main Street first?”
It’s a real good question given traffic conditions on both Airport Way and Main Street at the 120 Bypass is significantly worse. There is also limited money since the city has invested a significant chunk of the last remaining redevelopment agency bond proceeds into the $28.4 million project.
The short answer is misplaced trust.
In 2006 when Poag & McEwen unveiled their vision for The Promenade Shops at Orchard Valley, the 870,000-square — some 300,000 square feet less than Vintage Faire Mall in Modesto, it was clear that it would be a huge traffic generator once it was developed. The firm wanted something done to improve freeway access. The city agreed. To Manteca’s credit the heavy lifting for the environmental and design phases did not start until Orchard Valley was well underway. Bass Pro Shops, JC Penney, and assorted other concerns including the 16-screen movie theater opened just as the Great Recession hit.
Meanwhile city engineers came up with the diverging diamond design after seeing how effective — and less expensive — it was in other states. The city got Caltrans to buy in and it was off to the races. Meanwhile when the lifestyle center concept was still being bogged down by the recession, Poag & McEwen tried partnering with an outlet mall operator to fill empty line-space and undeveloped restaurant pads.
At the same time Manteca invested in the grunt work that took an inordinate amount of time and money to move the interchange project closer to breaking ground.
When it became clear a few years ago with the economy and growth in Manteca and the region was going strong while at the same time brick and mortar concerns were still in the hunt for places like Manteca to set up shop, Manteca was in a precarious position.
City leaders were all too aware that the developer — now known as Poag after his partner was bought out — wasn’t returning calls to both national and local concerns that wanted to lease space. At the same time they had invested six years of work, millions of dollars, and had secured environmental clearance plus Caltrans approval. Not to proceed with an interchange within a several year period would render all the work and money spent moot as approvals expire meaning the work would have to start again.
It was also clear that investing $28.4 million into the interchange was not investing into a bridge to nowhere. Residential and commercial development is still occurring along the Union Road corridor and nearby areas. It isn’t intense to the point it is on Main Street or Airport Way but it is still unfolding.
What Manteca knows now — the Costco and Stadium Retail Center along with Big League Dreams as well as other concerns such as 5.11 Tactical came after Orchard Valley opened or concurrently — had been known in 2008, rest assured the diverging diamond interchange would be under construction today at Airport Way instead of Union Road. Ultimately converging diamond interchanges will be built at Airport and Union Road but not for a number of years in the future.
Meanwhile Poag is in no big hurry to go anywhere. It is clear they are using the empty spaces and undeveloped restaurant pads as an entry on a ledger somewhere for the likely purpose of reducing their tax burden.
Poag says they want to build apartments/condos at Orchard Valley to likely create a Santana Row style experience like you can find in San Jose where people live, shop, and play but with a Northern San Joaquin Valley design twist. But again the city is hearing a lot of talk and seeing nothing of substance.
Meanwhile Mike Atherton and his partners are moving forward with 428 apartments immediately east of Bass Pro.
Atherton originally wanted to pursue a mixture of apartments with restaurants plus small shops for retail and services but went to the apartments only strategy after Poag told the city about his vision for the third reincarnation in 11 years of Orchard Valley.
While Manteca is benefiting from the 35-year sales tax sharing deal with Poag, it is clear the developer took them for a little ride in regards to the interchange work. Then there’s the “must have” electronic billboard sign Poag needed special rules from Manteca in order to pursue that has yet to materialize.
Notice a trend here? A stillborn lifestyle center, an aborted outlet mall, and a gestation period for a village concept development that makes the two years it takes for an elephant to go from conception to birth look like a matter of seconds in comparison.
Manteca didn’t get taken to the bank on the Orchard Valley sales tax by giving up 55 percent of the sales tax generate for 35 years given 97 percent of all dollars spent at Bass Pro are from non-Manteca residents. But the city most certainly has been strung along by Poag to the point they were hoodwinked into investing $28.4 million into an interchange that currently has the lightest use of all interchanges along the 120 Bypass through Manteca.
Perhaps Manteca’s leaders could persuade Poag to sell Orchard Valley to Atherton or other local developers that actually care about the city, work to turn visions into reality, and are fully capable of making deals work in one of the nation’s fastest growing areas.
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.