Frustrated by having to wait for a train at a track crossing in Manteca?
Then you’d better learn to chill out.
In the not too distant future train traffic will be increasing significantly.
How much it will is anyone’s guess since not all of California’s irksome environmental rules that require exhaustive studies on impacts apply to the railroads. But increase it will since Union Pacific is getting ready to expand its Lathrop intermodal facility so it can go from a maximum of 220,000 lifts to 700,000 lifts a year. That’s railroad jargon for the loading or unloading of a truck trailer for the rail-to-truck - and vice versa - operation.
More trains originating or departing the Lathrop intermodal facility means more blocked crossings at Airport Way, Louise Avenue, Union Road, Walnut Street, Center Street, Center Street, Yosemite Avenue, Main Street, Spreckels Avenue, and Austin Road.
Truck traffic is going to increase primarily on the Roth Road to Interstate 5 corridor with Lathrop Road to Highway 99, next up in the list then Airport Way to the 120 Bypass probably a distant third. Truck traffic essentially will increase more than 200 percent. It’ll be noticeable but not intolerable.
But the real traffic stopper will be the trains themselves.
The UP project is in no-man’s land sandwiched between the city limits of Manteca and Lathrop. Although it is in Lathrop’s sphere of influence - a logical area for a future annexation - it is within the jurisdiction of San Joaquin County.
There has been talk eventually of adding a bridge over the Union Pacific tracks on the northern border of the intermodal site on Roth Road just like there is over Lathrop Road on its southern flank.
Such a bridge won’t be cheap. It’ll easily cost in excess of $20 million.
It would, though be relatively straight forward with minimum to no real impact on existing uses on surrounding property. It also makes sense as blocked tracks while trains move into the intermodal yard would back up traffic in both directions.
It is for that reason San Joaquin County required a grade separation or bridge on Jack Tone Road when the Santa Fe intermodal facility was built a few years back north of Manteca. Most truck traffic to that facility accesses Highway 99 via Arch Road.
The original Measure K funding plan included money to help build a bridge over Center Street in Manteca. City leaders in the mid-1990s abandoned the plan for several reasons. It was costly, it wasn’t really a “major” travel corridor, and the impact was on many properties especially if it was above ground versus underground. Who, after all, wants people to be able to see into their backyard?
One of the reasons Center Street was picked in the first place was due to the fact Manteca’s police department, one of its fire station at the time, and Manteca Ambulance were all located on Center Street. Since then, the Union Road fire station was built, the ambulance operation opened a substation on Airport Way, and the police force has expanded patrols putting more resources out in the community making them less vulnerable to train blockages.
The city for awhile also had a bridge crossing for Airport Way over the tracks as part of its long-range road plans but then dropped it.
There is one grade separation project for Manteca on the books and it’s an eye popper. The new Austin Road interchange is estimated to cost anywhere between $120 million and $150 million since to bridge both Highway 99 and the railroad tracks it will require the relocation of a segment of the freeway to the east.
To put that in perspective, it will cost more than planned interchange improvements along the 120 Bypass at McKinley Avenue, Union Road, Airport Way, and Main Street plus the new Lathrop Road-Highway 99 interchange combined.
Putting bridges or underground facilities at any existing Manteca crossing would be costly and problematic. Given the protest any such proposal would generate from nearby residents the idea would essentially be dead on arrival.
There is little doubt Manteca and the rest of the region will receive a significant economic boost from jobs related to not just the moving of goods but from firms and logistics operations that desire to be close to not just one but two major intermodal facilities.
That’ll be the consolation prize down the road when you sit at a blocked crossing and long for the days when less trains passed through Manteca.
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 email@example.com or 209-249-3519.