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Manteca can ease future Airport Way mess with Swanson Road solution

Airport Way south of Stockton Metro Airport wasn’t much more than a rural road 17 years ago.

None of the housing projects south of the 120 Bypass were built. The Stadium Retail Center along with Costco weren’t even a figment of anyone’s imagination as land where they now stand was zoned agriculture. If you had said the city one day would build two high-profile visitors attractions — Big League Dreams and the Central Valley’s largest hotel in the form of the 500-room Great Wolf indoor waterpark resort that are expected to lure almost a million people annually to Manteca on land attached to the municipal wastewater treatment plant — they would have asked what you had been smoking.

Two Manteca neighborhoods bordered the eastern edge of Airport Way while numerous small parcels with non-cookie cutter homes lined the corridor.

Trucks weren’t scarce but they were primarily hauling agricultural production.

As for the city’s vision - previous general plans and on the fly planning — the Airport Way/120 Bypass interchange at one point was considered the ideal place to plop down a 300-truck freight terminal and then an Indian bingo casino.

Now 17 years later the Airport Way corridor is ending up becoming a camel that was designed by the proverbial committee that was tasked to come up with a horse.

Today as Airport Way passes through Manteca it:

uis lined with a number of subdivisions.

uborders a 1,450-home age-restricted community.

ustill has dozens of smaller rural parcels with homes.uboasts of one of the city’s top three commercial districts.

ustill has agriculture thriving including a cheese processing plant.

uis the main access point to major visitor magnets in the form of Great Wolf and BLD.

uis about to see even more business park development including 4.9 million square feet including two mega-distribution centers in excess of 1.2 million square feet apiece on the southwest corner of Airport Way’s intersection with Louise Avenue.

The Airport Way corridor in terms of overstressed roads is a Johnny Come Lately entry on Manteca’s growing list of major streets that need addressing. It is in the queue as far work as to get the stretch between Yosemite Avenue and Daniels Street past the design, environmental process and initial right of way work. That is still a few years off and will cost in excess of $1 million. The next phase that has been floated is not to build out that stretch of Airport Way to six lanes but to simply put in place a continuous middle turn lane and wider single lanes in each direction.

Since Manteca is not breaking ground on improving Airport Way anytime soon and a developer is itching to move forward on a new business park, this is a good time for city leaders to put on their thinking caps and ignore the by-the-book planners and consultants who do such a wonderful job directing development on paper following whatever bureaucratic edicts guide them and come up with some real world solutions to prevent Airport Way from becoming the poster boy corridor for schizo traffic planning.

The city is about to mix every conceivable type of traffic on the Airport Way corridor: trucking to and from distribution centers, leisure traffic retail traffic, commuter traffic, residential-related traffic trips, and, — what’s left of it — farm-related traffic. One can only wonder how well this is going to turn out.

Airport Way doesn’t have to turn into a complete traffic whack job.

All it does is taking some clear thinking and action before development takes options away.

One that has a solid chance of preventing creating acute traffic problems on the Airport Way corridor is a suggestion by Councilman Gary Singh to explore a spine road specifically for truck movements on the eastern side of the railroad tracks that serve as the shared city boundaries for Manteca and Lathrop.

In theory such a spine road could reach as far as CenterPoint where a third major distribution center is going through the permitting process to join 5.11 Tactical and the Penske’s operations that serves as Lowe’s Home Improvement Center’s Northern California distribution center. While most of the truck traffic is likely to access that area from Roth Road to reach Interstate 5 it is not inconceivable that some of it will come from the south via the 120 Bypass regardless of what development agreements may decree.

While there is room for such a road along the tracks and the drainage canal, it would be more than problematic. That’s because it would have to cross part of the Lathrop “Y” on the Union Pacific line that sends trains through Manteca south toward Fresno and beyond. The railroad isn’t known to be in the business of allowing new at-grade crossings. 

That said the fact Singh brought up the possibility does open the door for discussion of a real solution.

The developers of the 4.9 million square foot business park have agreed to make improvements to Airport Way from Crom Street to 120 Bypass to support its designation as a STAA (Surface Transportation Assistance Act) route that would allow longer trucks than the state allows. Other states allow longer trucks that California must also allow to use freeway and highways within the state in accordance to federal law. The trucks can only legally use surface streets that have been designated for the longer trucks.

Why not instead have them upgrade Swanson Road that heads out of the southern edge of their property to handle STAA trucks as well as have them work with the City of Lathrop to upgrade the McKinkey and Yosemite intersection? Trucks could then travel Swanson to Yosemite and then turn onto McKinley to reach the 120 Bypass using the new interchange that is advancing toward ground breaking. Given it will be a partial cloverleaf, truck movements through the interchange would be better than going through the interchange at Airport Way.

That way you eliminate mixing as many trucks as possible with the heavily traveled Airport Way corridor between the 120 Bypass and Louise Avenue. 

It also takes into consideration the odds of upgrades happening to the Airport Way interchange anytime soon as in the next 20 or so years are not likely. McKinley Avenue has been worked on for 10 years and a contract to build the interchange won’t likely be awarded for another two years. The city has not said a peep about the need to upgrade the Airport Way interchange. Before that they are likely to have to address upgrading the Main Street interchange first as well as figure out how to come up with $53 million to make the replacement Austin Road interchange as part of Caltrans’ $131.5 million solution to the 120 Bypass/99 interchange mess work be allowed to have operational ramps. The state has made it clear that the 53 million portion will not be on their dime.

With no money on the table for funding the actual construction of the middle turning lane and new single north and south bound lanes on Airport between Daniels and Yosemite let alone widening it to six lanes or to widen Airport to four lanes north of Yosemite, it is highly unlucky upgrades to the Airport Way/120 Bypass interchange will happen on the reasonable future.

Sending trucks down Swanson Road and making a STAA route to reach the 120 Bypass via McKinley Avenue makes a lot more sense than making Airport Way even more dysfunctional.