MODESTO -- A chronic traffic snarl near a Stanislaus River bridge between Modesto and Escalon could be cleared up some by building a new span, adding lanes and remaking McHenry Avenue's intersection with River Road, transportation officials say.
Work could begin in a couple of years and stretch until 2018. Drivers should not be slowed much if crews build half of the new bridge on the east side of the old one, then switch traffic to the new span while demolishing the old bridge and rebuilding a new western half.
The well-traveled stretch clogs in peak commute times earning an "F" ranking similar to school grades with drivers delayed an average of one minute, 43 seconds. The wait could lengthen to more than 13½ minutes by 2030 if nothing is done, according to an environmental study.
The worst specific backup heading toward Escalon in the early evening could deteriorate from two minutes, 37 seconds, to nearly 22 minutes by 2030, the study says.
"It's a very busy bridge. I think people will be happy to hear about it," said Aja Verburg, associate civil engineer with Stanislaus County public works.
Releasing the document gives officials an excuse to invite people to come chat and learn about the $29 million project and to share opinions. A March 27 open house is scheduled.
The new bridge would be large enough for five lanes but initially would continue to handle just one each way, plus a center turn lane. New traffic signals and turn lanes at McHenry and River would "significantly improve the flow of traffic and congestion and safety," Verburg said.
Shorter delays mean fewer cars idling and less pollution, the report says, and the new span would accommodate bicycles.
Improvements would continue up McHenry a mile to the north to include a new span over a canal owned by the South San Joaquin Irrigation District.
Twenty accidents near McHenry and River in the 3½ years preceding July 2008 amounting to 0.75 collisions for every million vehicles were triple the statewide average in that period, the report says.
The river separates Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties. A one-lane bridge first went up there in 1931, was rebuilt and widened to two lanes in the 1950s and is jointly owned by both agencies. San Joaquin is taking a lead role because a majority of the work would occur north of the river.
Consultants considered a roundabout at McHenry and River, but concluded that it would require an even wider bridge, costing an extra $11 million.
The work is not likely to harm the river or sensitive species such as the valley elderberry longhorn beetle, the study says.
Bee staff writer Garth Stapley can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2390.
AT A GLANCE
WHAT: McHenry Avenue Corridor Improvement Project open forum
WHEN: March 27, 6 to 7:30 p.m.
WHERE: Escalon Community Center, 1055 Escalon Ave.
INFO: Written comments can be sent by April 9 to firstname.lastname@example.org or to Julie Myrah, Caltrans District 10, 1976 E. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., Stockton 95205.