New maps for North County Corridor project

gstapley@modbee.comNovember 14, 2011 

Wednesday could be a banner day for people interested in new freeways north and west of Modesto.

New maps showing possible paths for the North County Corridor — in much greater detail than ever before — have been released and will be featured at a 4:30 p.m. meeting.

Ninety minutes later, transportation leaders will review renewed momentum for a new stretch of Highway 132 west of the city.

Both are being designed as multi-lane expressways — up to 26 miles long for the North County Corridor, skirting Modesto, Riverbank and Oakdale — and four miles long for Highway 132.

In both cases, officials say the roads would smooth traffic and help boost the economy while critics fear loss of rural land and quality of life.

Farmers and owners of businesses and ranchettes worried about the North County Corridor have been told for years not to lose sleep because precise alignments were not available. If fuzzy lines on previous maps were like a 9-inch black-and-white TV, the new maps provide wide-screen HDTV clarity.

Leaders won't choose between potential paths in some areas for more than two years. But each potential path now is available in much clearer focus.

New maps show important interchange configurations, with ramps and new alignments for existing roads when they conflict with the expressway.

For example, one option shows an entirely new leg of Claribel Road connecting to McHenry Avenue a couple of blocks south of its current alignment, at Galaxy Way. That would happen if leaders opt for a beefed-up Kiernan Avenue to double as the North County Corridor between Modesto and Riverbank.

Also, new maps show the freeway flying over or under some roads without connecting ramps. For example, the North County Corridor would pass over Sisk Road near Salida in one version, with access at Highway 99's interchange at Hammett Road and at Stoddard Road near Gregori High School, but none in between.

Both versions near McHenry show the freeway missing Thieman Road and Crawford Avenue neighborhoods, whose residents have been among the most vocal North County Corridor critics.

But both show hundreds of acres that government would have to buy, displacing many homes, ranches and businesses.

Either option near Kiernan and Tunsen Road would impact Derrel's Mini Storage — which is reconstructing its fountain entrance to make room for an unrelated widening of Kiernan. One version would wipe out several other nearby light-industrial buildings on Charity Way and Jerusalem Court, including an Elks Lodge, a motorcycle shop and a door company.

"Going through all those businesses doesn't make sense," said Derrel's Paul Ridenour, no relation to Modesto Mayor Jim Ridenour. "It's obvious to us that it's become a political decision. Elected politicians don't like ruffling feathers of constituents."

Matt Machado, the county's public works director and North County Corridor project manager, said people seem to be digesting mounds of new information in the maps.

"A couple of people said about interchange footprints, 'Wow! They're so big,' " Machado said. "For environmental study limits, we used standard interchange layouts and we may be able shrink them down in some locations. There's still plenty of time to make adjustments."

A draft environmental report is due in early 2013 with final route selection the next year.

Recently, the North County Corridor has taken a back seat in road headlines to Highway 132.

Leaders from throughout Stanislaus County took the bold step of channeling nearly all money in a regional pot to that project, which would provide a smooth alternative to stop-and-start Maze Boulevard.

Leaders hope Highway 132 improvements, which have languished for 50 years, would boost Modesto's profile with Bay Area businesses.

The North County Corridor Expressway Authority, composed of representatives from the county, Modesto, Riverbank and Oakdale, meets at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday in the basement chamber at Tenth Street Place, 1010 10th St., Modesto. On the Web: http://1.usa.gov/vXZDpj

A presentation on Highway 132 is scheduled for the Stanislaus Council of Governments' policy board at 6 p.m. Wednesday in StanCOG's third-floor boardroom at 1111 I St., Modesto. On the Web: http://bit.ly/v9i2Jy

Bee staff writer Garth Stapley can be reached at gstapley@modbee.com or (209) 578-2390.

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