MODESTO -- Transportation officials are dropping plans for a future freeway north of Modesto but still intend to build the North County Corridor's eastern segment, from Modesto's McHenry Avenue to Highway 108 east of Oakdale.
Kiernan Avenue essentially would replace the west leg near Modesto, appeasing people worried that an expressway north of Kiernan and Claribel Road would consume thousands of acres of private property.
Also, eliminating the segment north of Modesto will save money.
A group east of Oakdale remains anxious at another route revision on that end, preserving the possibility that homes and farms could be sacrificed.
Reactions were mixed at news of the revisions.
"I think it's good for the community," Modesto Mayor Garrad Marsh said of the Kiernan portion. Stanislaus County Supervisor Terry Withrow agreed.
Both sympathize with a vocal contingent urging officials to "make Kiernan work" instead of running a new freeway through farmland between Salida and McHenry.
"From my perspective, that makes good sense," agreed farmer Gary Darpinian.
County Supervisor Bill O'Brien, who represents Oakdale and Riverbank, said he is disappointed that long-range planning yet again seems to have caved to popular pressure. Studies suggest that Kiernan, even beefed up, won't be able to handle traffic demands in 40 years, he noted.
On the other hand, landowners north of Kiernan should be free to build homes or barns or sell property without fear of interference for at least a couple of decades, O'Brien said.
Widening will suffice
The west leg is not needed as badly because of road improvements, officials say, including recent and future widening of Kiernan and Claribel and next year's rebuilding of Kiernan's interchange with Highway 99.
Oakdale Mayor Pat Paul said she's cynical because transportation officials have been studying a bypass of her city for several decades, with nothing to show for it. The latest revision is partly a result of running low on money to study fairy shrimp, she noted.
Lopping off six miles from Salida to McHenry could save $1 million in studies that must be redone this winter because the federal Fish and Wildlife Service won't accept those conducted during last year's relatively dry winter.
Meanwhile, dozens of people east of Oakdale are unhappy with the city's vision of stores and offices fed by the new freeway near Highway 108 and Stearns Road if that path is chosen.
Transportation officials previously eyed two other options in that area for connecting the North County Corridor with Highway 108. The latest revision eliminates the option farthest to the east, keeping paths near Stearns or Wamble Road in the mix.
Final decision in 2015?
A final decision is not expected before 2015 longer, if it doesn't rain enough in coming months.
Officials say they knocked out the eastern option because it has more potential to disrupt vernal pools and other wildlife habitat without providing more congestion relief.
"How does something environmentally outweigh the lives of these families?" asked resident Curt Porter.
Even with fewer options to study, the expressway's budget is strained, said Matt Machado, Stanislaus County public works director and manager of the North County Corridor Authority. That agency is composed of the county, Modesto, Riverbank and Oakdale.
The McHenry-to-Oakdale leg is expected to cost $400 million, while officials have secured only about $91 million.
A future finance plan will lay out options including bonds secured by land expected to profit from proximity to offramps.
The authority's governing board, made up of elected officials from partner agencies, is expected to sign off on route revisions at 4:30 p.m. Nov. 21 in the basement chamber at Tenth Street Place, 1010 10th St., Modesto.
Bee staff writer Garth Stapley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2390.