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Maybe this time around the 120 Bypass will end up with more than a few trees
bypass trees
Don’t laugh but this is what several million dollars Manteca secured to landscape the 120 Bypass and Highway 99 corridor with funds from the American Recovery Act looks like on the northwest quadrant of the 120 Bypass/99 interchange a decade after it was planted.

These are strange times.

Republicans once upon a time were all over investing in the nation’s infrastructure as defined by freeways, railroads, power grids, and water projects as they viewed them as a sacred obligation of the federal government.

And in all fairness so did Democrats including Manteca’s very own John McFall who as majority whip rose to the third highest rank in Congress.

The 120 Bypass that eliminated the perennial traffic snarl on Fridays and Sundays on Yosemite Avenue caused by Bay Area to the Sierra and back travelers made the Chick-fill-A mess seem like free flowing traffic in comparison got a healthy chunk of federal dollars to make it possible.

Yet only 13 Republicans voted for the $1.1 trillion federal infrastructure bill that will send at least $60 billion California’s way over the next five years.

And 6 Democrats did the same because they wanted to blackmail their party to equate non-physical things to infrastructure and shift government presses that print money into warp speed to finance it.

If you turn back the calendar 30 years such a measure would have had unanimous support in the Senate and perhaps one or two no votes in the House of Representatives.

It’s because at the end of the day everything else doesn’t matter if you can’t get water from taps, flush your toilet as well as being able to move goods and people around.

That’s not to say the things they want that hardly can be classified as traditional infrastructure aren’t needed and wouldn’t make a difference. It’s just that you need a foundation first.

And — if you ever have seen government operate on the federal level or any other level for that matter — you know throwing money at problems when bureaucrats haven’t quite thought it through and there’s no commitment beyond the spending of the last dollar — can be a colossal waste of resources providing little if any benefit.

The 120 Bypass provides a prime example of that just as it is a testimony to what federal funds spent right can leverage.

Do you remember the American Recovery Act? It was rolled out as the panacea to get the nation out of the hole that was dug by the liar loan crisis that triggered the Great Recession.

Manteca, with the assistance of the state, was able to snag more than $2 million to “beautify” the 120 Bypass and part of Highway 99.

It was an amazing plan. The Yosemite Avenue/East Highway 120 and the 120 Bypass/Highway 99 interchanges were going to have 1,700 trees and shrubs that would transfer 50 acres into urban woodland.

That was on top on 5,400 trees, 3,900 shrubs, 28,700 cubic yards of mulch, and 500,000 square feet of hydro seed for grass. It was destined to landscape the roadside stretching from Austin Road to French Camp Road along years Highway 99 corridor as well as the 120 Bypass from Interstate 5 to Highway 99.

Then the project went thru the buzz saw.

By the time the project was awarded it was a third the size.

When all was said and done there was several thousand trees and shrubs planted, hydro seeding done, and mulch spread. The contract called for a company to irrigate the shrubs and trees by a water truck for three years.

And how, you might ask, did that turn out?

Can you say what a waste of several million dollars?

There are at least two positive outcomes. At least hundreds of trees that were envisioned to create an urban forest within the 120 Bypass and Highway 99 interchange won’t have to be ripped out to make way for the coming upgrades. Plus the homeless have gotten great cover to create makeshift shelter.

What happened along the 120 Bypass should make you nervous when you hear members of the White House administration saying they need to rush to get the $1.1 trillion spent. The reason for that is not altruistic

It is for the same reason that politicians have leveraged tax dollars for since the beginning of the republic. And that reason is to snag votes.

Should it be that way? Probably not. Will it change? Probably not.

That brings us to the insanity of the moment. Republicans getting death threats because they voted for the bill and Democrats being shamed by their own party members for agreeing to the spending plan.

Trash the $1.1 trillion federal infrastructure bill all you want but when push comes to shove some of that money is likely to make its way into San Joaquin County and specifically the 120 Bypass safety and congestion relief upgrades.

The odds are the second phase to address the northbound Highway 99 to westbound 120 snarl will get some of the funding. And with a bit of luck the third and final phase may benefit as well.

Not only are you seven times more likely to get in an accident on the 120 Bypass compared to a typical stretch of freeway in the nation but it is the deadliest stretch of freeway in the Northern San Joaquin Valley.

Gas tax alone isn’t going to do the trick.

We need freeways. We need railroads. We need water projects.

And we certainly don’t need to spend tax dollars like sailors on a drunk after 18 months at sea.

Infrastructure bills used to unite politicians. Now they are just another endless battlefield used to wage war that in the end has nothing to do with what the money is being spent on.

Why would you threaten someone with death when everyone needs roads and water?

And why would you try to hold such projects that provide those hostage when they help more people on the bottom of the economic pile more than they will those on top that you’re dying to tax into oblivion?

The only silver lining is we might actually get some work done.

And this time around for the Northern San Joaquin Valley region it might be more substantial and game changing than a handful of trees and shrubs still standing after 11 years and $2 million later.


 This column is the opinion of editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinions of The Bulletin or 209 Multimedia. He can be reached at