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Time to rethink entire McKinley Avenue strategy
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McKinley Avenue could turn into the Waterloo of 1960s-style growth in Manteca.

And it has nothing to do with long-time rural residents and farmers who promise to draw a line in the sandy plains south of the 120 Bypass.

It has everything to do with who holds the cards and what makes the world go around - money.

Southwest Manteca near the old waterslides has been the subject of daydreaming by planners and developers alike for close to 25 years.

First there was the fantasy that Pleasanton could be recreated in Manteca via a copycat Hacienda Business Park. With all due respect, Terra Business Park is gone with the wind. Terra - in case anyone remembers how they serenaded former Congressman Richard Pombo - was the entire reason for securing $2.8 million in federal funds to design the interchange in the first place. It was supposed to be the next Promised Land for jobs.

It is abundantly clear that Manteca’s economy is going to keep trucking - as in distribution centers and regional operations - and not as a high-tech center. It is what has given traction to the 1,050-acre Austin Road Business Park just under 2.5 miles to the east.

That project - by the way - has a healthy mixture of housing. That means it isn’t just single family homes that ultimately will serve as the Bay Area’s affordable housing when the economy picks up steam again. There are other housing mixes aimed at accommodating workers who could easily choose to live within walking - or at least a short driving distance - of future jobs.

The city’s vision for McKinley Avenue as an expressway reflects that new reality. It would be six lanes in the east near a future interchange with Highway 99 and two lanes where it would curve through what is now rural estates and farms south of Manteca before joining up against at the 120 Bypass where an interchange has been proposed.

It all seems practical and well-planned unless, of course, you happen to live along one of the alignments or farm in the vicinity.

The real problem for Manteca is money.

They have well over $120 million in other interchange work to fund at the new Austin Road location, Main Street, Union Road, and Airport Way. The state has no money. The federal government won’t be writing blank checks any time in the future. And it is doubtful future homeowners are going to pony up $10,000-plus per home just so they can have the Lexus of freeway access.

McKinley Avenue - in the vernacular of pragmatism and reality - is expandable. You might argue the expressway per se is good long-range planning. But if the interchange is not affordable, then why not loop the expressway north to the 120 Bypass either via Union Road or Airport Way? It gets traffic moving and eliminates an interchange. It also still allows for residential development such as the massive Trails at Manteca. So what if future residents have to travel a mile farther to access a freeway?

There are other options and they include ones that don’t open Pandora’s Box such as McKinley Expressway does in the proposal to swing it through what is now high risk land for flooding.

The bottom line: Manteca needs to go back to the drawing board and proceed without a McKinley Avenue interchange. It would be nice but it is not absolutely necessary. Besides, you can’t just want something. You have to be able to pay for it.