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The $150 million- plus question for the City Council
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Can Manteca afford to build an interchange at McKinley Avenue and the 120 Bypass?

It’s the only bottom line that matters Tuesday when the Manteca City Council revisits whether to go forward with design work costing $1.5 million.

A month ago the council unanimously voted to essentially send $2.8 million back to Uncle Sam. That money was secured in 2005 to cover the design work and right-of-way acquisition. Vince Hernandez led the charge to sidetrack the project after expressing reservations that the only reason the city was moving forward at this time was so they’d start spending the federal money to avoid having to return it next year to Washington, D.C.

McKinley interchange is back before the council because Caltrans has made it clear making Yosemite Avenue a full-scale interchange is extremely problematic due to its proximity to the Interstate 5-120 Bypass interchange. In short, it’s not going to happen.

That in itself is not justification to change course from the action taken last month.

The reason is simple. Manteca needs to stop dreaming and get down to the nitty gritty.

The city has five interchange projects on its wish list:

• A new one on Highway 99 south of Austin Road.

• Upgrading three interchanges on the 120 Bypass - Union Road, Airport Way, and Main Street.

• The McKinley-120 Bypass interchange.

That doesn’t include the Lathrop Road-Highway 99 interchange work that will start in the next few years. That tab is being picked up by state bond money and Measure K funds. What isn’t being picked up is the cost of widening the Louise Avenue overcrossing on Highway 99 to four lanes and bringing the Cottage Avenue overcrossing of Highway 99 up to standard at some point in the future. Neither project has been identified but it is clear as the city grows they need to be addressed.

The tab for the five interchanges ranges from $150 million to $180 million depending upon what happens with the most expensive project of them all – the six-lane crossing and interchange south of Austin Road that also has to clear the railroad tracks. That will require shifting the freeway to make it work. The first estimate the city got for that interchange was $110 million.

Exactly what can Manteca afford to build?

And if the decision is they can’t afford not to build them all, the next question that needs to be answered is which ones will be built first? Union Road is already a pressing issue. Airport Way isn’t far behind especially if the family entertainment center anchored by Great Wolf Resort goes forward.

It may make sense to go ahead and use the federal money now to cut local costs. Design work, though, has a set shelf life. If Manteca doesn’t proceed with the interchange in five years at McKinley after spending $2.8 million on design work and such will it simply be throwing money down the drain?

How will be city pay for the work?

It’s doubtful Uncle Sam is going to keep spending like a drunken sailor anymore given the realization that a ballooning deficit has the potential of torpedoing the economy. The state isn’t exactly flush with money. Plus a state study that came out last week shows $200 billion in freeway and bridge fixes are needed over the next 20 years with gas tax barely generating half of what is needed.

Manteca needs to be lauded for trying to take full advantage of the freeway access along Highway 99 and the 120 Bypass. What they have proposed is good planning. But good planning is worthless if you can’t afford to build everything.

Which is why the tough question that needs to be answered Tuesday is just how is Manteca going to pay for a McKinley-120 Bypass interchange. But that really can’t be answered until city leaders can say just how essential the McKinley interchange is in comparison with the four others that also do not have construction funding identified for them.

Failure to answer those questions means Hernandez is right in his original assumption this is really about spending federal money so Manteca doesn’t have to give it back.

This column is the opinion of managing editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.  He can be contacted at or 209-249-3519.