It was the bridge to nowhere.
That’s not to dismiss the farm-rich countryside south of Manteca, but when the original 120 Bypass — the blood alley that was complete with notorious suicide lanes — came to be in the late 1980s Union Road didn’t even rate on and off ramps much alone a sidewalk or even a standard 6-foot fence as a safety barrier.
It was treated just like McKinley Avenue. It was a crossing of a new barrier that if not put in place would have added hardship to those farming and living south of town to get about. That changed in the mid-1990s when the Band-Aid concrete barriers to the suicide lanes — the three lane design that employed and alternating two lanes down to one then back to two in both directions that claimed a life every six weeks for almost three tears — were removed and the 120 Bypass became a full-fledged four-lane freeway. It was then that Union Road was made into an interchange. Five years later the first tract home was built south of the Bypass.
No one had the foresight to see what is happening today. In fact, a planner in the city’s Community Development Department famously told a Modesto Bee reporter that growth would never occur south of the 120 Bypass as it was an insurmountable barrier to overcome for the extension of sewer and water lines. It is amazing how those in charge of crystal balls even have a tough time seeing the obvious.
It is why the Manteca City Council’s decision to add a separate pedestrian crossing when the Union Road interchange is upgraded marks a significant shift in thinking.
That shift is the tactical acknowledgement of the inevitable: Everything that has been put in place has made it possible for the market driven private sector to take Manteca from its 73,000 residents today to 120,000 people in the next 20 or so years.
You make not like it. You may try to stop it. But if you want the best outcome you need to make sure it — with it being growth — is done right.
And by that Manteca needs to be a livable and affordable city for those that live here. Councilman Vince Hernandez is right. Sometimes you only get one chance to do the right thing.
At the same time Councilman Richard Silverman — who has proven to be hyper vigilant regarding the expenditure of tax dollars — was a bit queasy about the $1.5 million price tag to take pedestrian safety to the next level.
To be honest, most people took a repeated promise made by previous councils over the years that enhanced bicyclist and pedestrian safety would be put in place on the 120 Bypass crossings at Airport Way, Union Road, and Main Street at some time in the future as noted in adopted traffic circulation and bike route plans to mean a concrete K-rail separating the travel lane from a bike lane/pedestrian pathway.
But then municipal staff did what we expect them to do to earn their pay. They came up with a way to move traffic more efficiently, reduce traffic congestion, and increase traffic safety by rolling out a converging diamond design. While it didn’t reduce pedestrian safety compared to a straight-forward overpass with a K-rail separating paths on either sides by pushing all pedestrians and bicyclists to the center median, it didn’t enhance their safety either.
The converging diamond will save $10 million compared to the straight-forward full clover-leaf design. Spending $1.5 million in that context to enhance pedestrian safety as Manteca moves toward adding no less than 10,000 housing units south of the 120 Bypass in the coming years makes sense. At the end of the day the converging diamond design with a separate pedestrian/bicycle crossing that eliminates having to maneuver through two intersections that are expected to be heavily traveled will help add to the livability of a city of 120,000 by assuring people — young and old — can move about Manteca on their own power.
If the Union Road design is successful, one hopes it can be repeated at Airport Way and Main Street when the time comes for those interchanges to be upgraded as well.
The Manteca City Council — and not hired staff — are key to making sure Manteca is livable and stays that way. Staff does a Herculean job with the nuts and bolts but it is up to the council to convey the type of city they want Manteca to be and to become.
That’s where the council as policymakers come in.
The message the council delivered on Union Road was clear. Manteca isn’t just about building houses and moving cars. It’s about making Manteca livable and safe.
It takes keeping a hawk’s demeanor on how money is spent while at the same time using innovative and long-range problem solving without forgetting that Manteca first and foremost is home to 73,000 people that need to count as much — if not more — than automobiles.
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.