By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Modesto commuter invasion of south Manteca neighborhoods getting worse
MOFFAT Woodward
The weekday afternoon traffic snarl on Moffat Boulevard and Woodward Avenue in southeast Manteca.

Got 10 minutes of your life that you don’t mind wasting?

Then take a ride down Manteca’s worst stretch of pavement in terms of consistent traffic congestion.

Head out about 1:30 p.m. toward Highway 99 and Ripon on Moffat Boulevard.

A trip from roughly the point you pass Crossroads Community Church to the stop sign at Austin Road takes 30 seconds or so at 10 a.m. on a weekday.

Do so during much of the afternoon Monday through Friday and it can take as long as 10 minutes to cover that distance as it did Thursday of this week.

This is nothing new.

And what prompted me to burn through some fossil fuel at $5 a gallon to take a closer look at the mess that has become just a fact of life in Manteca was a trip to take a photo of the fire station at Atherton Drive and Woodward Avenue.

The southbound traffic on Woodward was backed up roughly a quarter of the way to Pillsbury Road.

It should be noted the was no train on the side track blocking the crossing. Nor had a train passed in the previous 20 minutes.

This was how bad things are getting.

I drove back to Moffat Boulevard via Van Ryn Avenue to Industrial Park Drive, which is how I was able to clock the 10 minute drive where traffic was struggling to keep pace with what appeared to be a homeless woman walking alongside Moffat.

This was at 1:38 p.m.

Turning left onto to Austin Road after reaching the four-way stop, traffic was backed up to the other side of the bridge.

I assumed — incorrectly as it turned out -— that this was Highway 99 traffic coming from Ripon-Modesto taking the Austin off-ramp to reach Moffat and wherever they may reside in south Manteca.

I drove past where earthmovers between Highway 99 and Austin Road were prepping land once covered with almond trees and grapevines for a new crop of 797 homes.

There was an inordinate amount of traffic turning right onto Austin from eastbound Highway 120.

Given it was dismissal time for Calla High, I made another incorrect assumption that it was tied to people picking up students at the school.

After waiting for just over two dozen cars to pass, I was able to make a U-turn. I then drove down Austin Road, crossed the railroad tracks, and pulled over to observe traffic movements at the intersection.

Traffic was still backed up on the bridge.

After noting 20 vehicles approaching the intersection with Moffat from the north on Austin, 18 turned left to reach the freeway ramp, one continued straight, and one turned right onto Moffat to head into Manteca.

To make sure I was adding one and one correctly, I called someone who lives along Austin Road that appears destined to become Airport Way 2.0 in terms of traffic congestion.

They confirmed what was obvious.

Commuters found a new way to get around the eastbound 120 Bypass backup besides taking just either Main Street, Union Road, or even the Airport Way exit depending upon at what point freeway traffic comes to standstill.

They were using the left lane on the 120 Bypass at the split to take a circuitous route by heading north on Highway 99, east on Yosemite Avenue/Highway 120, south on Austin, and then left on Moffat to bypass the mess.

Whether this saves time is anyone’s guess.

The traffic on the eastbound Bypass, when I was able to check following the turn count at Austin and Moffat, was backed up to a point just before Union Road.

There are, however, four things that are indisputable.

Drivers bypassing the eastbound 120 Bypass/southbound Highway 99 transition backup by taking shortcuts via Manteca surface streets are taking some pressure off the freeway congestion, meaning if they didn’t do so it would be worse.

Also, those drivers are reducing their chances of becoming an accident statistic, given a collision on the notorious stretch of the 120 Bypass happens every 37 hours on average.

Those same drivers are making Manteca streets such as Woodward Avenue and Austin Road less safe.

And they are making those streets more congested.

All of that said, in less than a year you may look fondly back at the traffic mess as being a time when vehicles flowed more freely.

That’s because the cure for what ails Bypass traffic flow will make things worse for three to six years and possibly for as much as 10 years if all three phases of 120 Bypass/99 upgrades are done back-to-back.

What is being done by Caltrans to address the issue needs to be done.

It should be noted early work in the first phase that starts this summer will rob commuters heading toward Modesto of the circuitous bypass route invoking heading north to East Highway 120 and then south on Austin Road.

That’s because the overpass is being demolished and replaced with a new bridge structure similar to the one on Lathrop Road over Highway 99.

As such, it will cut off access to the southbound Highway 99 ramp given Austin Road will temporarily dead-end before the freeway.

The city, via developers, will have traffic signals installed at Airport Way and Atherton Drive by the time construction starts on the freeway improvements.

With a little luck, the same may be true for traffic signals at Main Street and Woodward Avenue.

Both developments would help keep the traffic bypassing the Bypass from making it miserable to cross either Atherton Drive or Woodward Avenue.

The long-term issue — and one that the Manteca City Council has a lot of say in — is what the future holds for south Manteca after at least the first phase of the three-phase $154 million Caltrans project is completed.

That is when there will be two transition lanes in place from the eastbound 120 Bypass to southbound Highway 99.

Rest assured when that happens, Modesto and points south of the Stanislaus River will not magically stop growing.

It is why Manteca needs to refrain from connecting the Raymus Parkway to Highway 99 with a future interchange.

If they don’t, they will create a de facto bypass of the 120 Bypass from the McKinley Avenue interchange now scheduled to open next month to the envisioned Raymus Parkway interchange midway between Jack Tone Road and Austin Road on Highway 99.

That’s because the new McKinley Avenue alignment, once it crosses Woodward Avenue, turns into Raymus Parkway.

The new Austin Road interchange — once the extremely robust and expensive braided ramp system is built in the third phase — will adequately serve future traffic movements in southeast Manteca.

It is clear the overwhelming future traffic, whether it is truck or vehicle that will originate from the  undeveloped areas in southeast Manteca such as the approved zoning the Austin Road Business Park, will be Bay Area/Tracy bound and not heading south to Modesto et al.

Manteca needs to resist the urge to cater to the whims of future commuters based in Modesto.

None of the traffic studies connected with development in south Manteca takes the impact of traffic bypassing the 120 Bypass into account that has been in existence since at least the late 1990s and grows with each passing year.

Ripon had the foresight to start taking steps to try and discourage the growth of their own version of major route bypasses those residing south of the Stanislaus River take.

The impact of such a bypass on traffic and the quality of life in Ripon was verified in a targeted traffic study.

Manteca needs to follow Ripon’s lead and discourage rather than encourage Modesto area commuters turning local city streets into cutoffs and deteriorating the quality of life so they can shave a couple of minutes off their daily drive.

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