It wasn’t too long ago that Moffat Boulevard was — quite frankly — in the toilet.
In its heyday it was a main entrance to Manteca as it carried Highway 99 traffic to the edge of downtown where it turned northward at Main Street to where it intersected Highway 120 that doubled as Yosemite Avenue through downtown Manteca a block away.
Moffat, as it neared Main Street had several gas stations, three motor courts — the forerunner design to modern motels, and even a highway diner.
There was even the proverbial dive bar near the city limits.
It was for all intent and purposes — a highway scene reminiscent of the late 1940s and early 1950s glorified by the song about taking that California trip on Route 66.
Beyond Cowell Avenue — the last Manteca city street — was the less pretty side of Spreckels Sugar where a washboard, pothole riddled narrow, sleepy country road dubbed Spreckels Road T-intersected with Moffat after passing stop signs at the railroad tracks.
Next to Spreckels was the Moffat cattle feed lot.
Thanks to the cattle being fattened for market with sugar pulp, it helped put the sugar beet processing odor Manteca was infamous for on steroids.
After that there was farm fields on the left and train tracks and more farm fields on the right as you made your way to Ripon.
All of that was before the Highway 99 freeway was built in 1955 that at the time was outside the eastern outskirts of the city.
It was the year — the same time when the then fancy modern-looking Tradeway Chevrolet showroom and service center on the southwest corner of the brand new Highway 99/Yosemite avenue interchange opened — Moffat started its decline.
By the time Spreckels Sugar — that for years was the city’s biggest private sector employer and provided Manteca’s most visible landmark with its four-pack of 15-story sugar silos — closed in 1996, Moffat Boulevard hit rock bottom.
The gas stations were long abandoned.
There were no sidewalks, curbs, or gutters on the southside of Moffat.
As for the northside, such improvements were intermittent at best.
Street lights were spotty.
The motels had degenerated and had years prior stopped attracting vacationing families or traveling business clientele.
The area between Moffat and the tracks had turned into a combination de facto truck parking area, wayside for homeless living in vehicles, and a popular place for people to dump all sorts of trash from discarded furniture and appliances to actual bags of garbage.
One of the two trailer parks had degenerated into a dumpy looking drug-infested affair right across the street from Manteca High.
There were more vacant commercial buildings than occupied.
Homeless — apparently starting warming fires — managed to jump start the urban renewal process with three of the structures burning.
In short, Moffat had become a cancerous blight reaching within a block of Manteca’s heart and center of downtown — Yosemite Avenue and Main Street.
Fast forward 25 years to day.
Moffat Boulevard — while still a work in progress — has become arguably Manteca’s second biggest urban renewal success story topped only by the transformation of a shuttered sugar beet processing plant and feed lot into the 362-acre economic juggernaut with its business park, commercial, and residential components.
The Moffat Boulevard corridor without a doubt the most unheralded success story executed by the City of Manteca.
And the role Moffat Boulevard will play in transforming Manteca’s future — especially that of downtown and tying the older community with the rapidly growing southern area — is just getting started.
That’s because of two projects that should be completed by 2026, if not sooner.
One is the construction of a boarding platform and parking lots south of the Manteca Transit Center for the start of Altamont Corridor Express passenger train service.
The other is the replacement of the Austin Road/Highway 99 interchange that will realign Woodward Avenue and alter surface street traffic patterns.
Keep in mind this is happening after — are you ready for this — more than $120 million that has been invested or about to be invested by the Manteca Unified School District, City of Manteca and private sector since 2002.
The biggest, of course is the modernization of Manteca High and the campus’ reconfiguration for a program enrollment of 2,250 students.
Given Manteca High is part of downtown and like all high schools does double duty as a community hub, the transformation will have a significant ripple impact.
It should be noted the entrance to Manteca High is being reorientated toward Moffat where you will enter the campus via Buffalo Way (Garfield Avenue).
Almost directly across the street will be the new ACE station and parking lot.
Having the ACE station in such a location on top of downtown and the high school and across the street from an older residential neighborhood just in the early stages of being upgraded provides a huge and unparalleled opportunity to create a unique transit village
The initial city investment almost a quarter of a century ago to replace problematic pavement and add curbs gutters, sidewalks, storm drains and lighting was just a start.
*The iconic Manteca Transit Station and community center was built.
*Spreckels Business Park has risen from the debris of Spreckels Sugar.
*The modernistic Crossroads Grace Community Church campus opened.
*The bustling Manteca Commerce Center was completed.
*Two large retail showrooms were built at Woodward Avenue with one approved for conversion into an events center.
*One of the best Northern California BMX tracks has opened.
*The city built the well-used Moffat Community Center/VFW Hall.
*Other private sector upgrades have taken place with the biggest being the Manteca Veterinarian Clinic.
But perhaps the biggest card the city has yet to play comes when the Woodward Avenue realignment and track crossing project— complete with traffic signals — is done.
It will be almost a carbon copy of what happened when Spreckels Road years ago morphed into the Industrial Park Drive crossing to connect with Spreckels Avenue.
It will provide a less cumbersome way to travel from southeast Manteca where thousands of more homes have yet to be built between what is in progress at Griffin Park and envisioned along the Austin Road corridor.
It also enhances Moffat being a straight shot from southeast Manteca into downtown.
As such, it could easily lead to the vision of some — including Mayor Gary Singh — to make the wide Moffat corridor a downtown bypass given it connects to Spreckels Avenue as well.
As such, it could set the stage for redoing Yosemite Avenue through downtown as a more pedestrian friendly affair complete with wide sidewalks for shady al fresco dining and promenades — think Tracy’s downtown revitalization — to help pump new life into the Manteca’s central district.
All in all not a bad urban renewal track record for a corridor that people in the mid-1990s viewed as a blighted mess that’s better days were not ahead but behind it.
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 email@example.com