Wednesdays battle over scarce road money was even better than advertised, if you like bloody political rows, with Modesto and Stanislaus County emerging victorious. But as the dust settled, Turlock struck a final blow that could cripple the rest of the region.
The fight pit the south county, cast in the role of underdog upstart, against northern bullies, and yes, there were Civil War references.
In a 10-4 vote, a majority of transportation leaders favored adding two lanes to a future Highway 132 bypass of Maze Boulevard west of downtown Modesto, for a total of four lanes, and widening the citys McHenry Avenue link to Escalon, rather than rebuilding Fulkerth Roads interchange with Highway 99 to improve Turlocks chances at drawing more jobs.
As the Stanislaus Council of Governments vote was tallied and announced, Turlock Councilman Forrest White declared that he would urge his city to pursue a road tax for Turlock and withdraw backing for a future countywide transportation tax. Its assumed that such an effort, already facing huge odds, would wither without the support of Turlock, the countys second-largest city behind Modesto. Its obvious youve said, Do it on your own, so well do it on our own, White said.
Joining Turlock in dissent were representatives of Ceres, Newman and Oakdale.
Whites predecessor on StanCOGs policy board, former Councilwoman Mary Jackson, said before the vote that northern agencies owed Turlock because she had agreed to support Modestos bid for a previous round of state road money two years ago. You all were jealous when Blue Diamond chose Turlock for a huge plant, Jackson said. Dont punish us, she said, for establishing the most attractive industrial park in the county.
Turlock City Manager Roy Wasden said ongoing recruitment of companies will bring more than 1,000 jobs and more than 1,000 daily trucks to the city. Remaking the interchange is crucial to keeping that on track, he said.
Modesto and county representatives argued just as vigorously. I dont know whey were thrown back to Civil War days. My gosh, said Modesto Councilwoman Stephanie Burnside, recalling a very different atmosphere two years ago when representatives from across the county rallied behind the Highway 132 bypass after a 50-year wait. This is not a Turlock vs. Modesto thing, Burnside continued. When you start talking words like that, I find it completely disrespectful to this agency.
Planners with Modesto, the county and StanCOG said throwing weight to the Fulkerth project could endanger all of the state money allotted for eligible Stanislaus projects $13.7 million if state transportation leaders decide that the Fulkerth request doesnt meet criteria. For example, proposals must demonstrate that the money would ease traffic, planners said, noting that Maze and McHenry have failing grades for smooth flow, while Fulkerth isnt all that bad.
Wasden said a Fulkerth upgrade would draw business benefiting the region, while increasing the future freeway segment west of Modesto from two to four lanes would merely make us a better bedroom community for the Bay Area.
Oakdale Councilman Michael Brennan suggested dropping the McHenry project and adding Fulkerth to the regions request, which will be heard early next year by the California Transportation Commission. But county representatives said that would prompt them to withdraw an offer of contributing $9 million toward the McHenry project and $4 million to the Highway 132 plan.
In other news, StanCOG agreed to pay $107,000 for a consultant to study bus systems run by Modesto, Turlock, Ceres and the county because they dont make enough money selling tickets to meet a state requirement.
Bee staff writer Garth Stapley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2390.