Transportation leaders on Wednesday removed any chance for a new freeway segment north of Modesto with an order to study a shorter path east of McHenry Avenue and south of Riverbank and Oakdale.
Critics of the leg north of Modesto praised its doom, but Wednesday's vote of the North County Corridor Authority was not unanimous.
Stanislaus County Supervisor Bill O'Brien frowned on increasing a consultant's pay from $5.8 million to $9.5 million for extra work, and his uncle, Riverbank Mayor Richard O'Brien, abstained from voting.
The other authority members Modesto and Oakdale Mayors Garrad Marsh and Pat Paul, and county Supervisor Terry Withrow favored pushing on with environmental studies and a better look at how the $400 million expressway's traffic could affect flow on McHenry.
"I'm thrilled," Withrow said, that a robust Kiernan will serve to usher vehicles from McHenry to Highway 99.
Opponents of sacrificing farms and ranchettes north of Modesto made their will known and ultimately won, he said, urging others with concerns to learn from their example.
Crews are expected to continue an eastward widening of Kiernan and begin a major remake of its interchange with Highway 99, both in the spring.
"This process works," Withrow said. "Don't be discouraged. Continue to be involved."
Bill O'Brien took another view. He congratulated those who prevailed, but said engineers had fooled office holders by initially insisting that Kiernan was not an option.
"When this started, elected officials had to defend the north-of-Kiernan route," he said. "We got pretty bloodied over that. Here we are today saying, 'You know,
Kiernan makes sense.' I feel we were led down a road, no pun intended, that we shouldn't have gone down."
Bill O'Brien also objected to the significant raise for Jacobs Engineering a 65 percent increase over the original 2009 contract, because of five changes since.
Project manager Matt Machado, the county's public works director, said Jacobs has taken on far more tasks and it made sense to stay with the firm most familiar with the project.
Richard O'Brien, who is new to the panel, did not explain his abstention.
Several property owners who could be in the way also weighed in. Scientists and engineers are studying various options before final route selection in a couple of years.
Construction is expected to start at Highway 108 east of Oakdale in 2020, moving west to McHenry and opening to traffic in 2022.
Darren Webb of Modesto said the authority should focus on local traffic needs and not on providing easier access for Bay Area people to the foothills and Yosemite National Park.
Bee staff writer Garth Stapley can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2390.