Does the view from Highway 99 reflect an image we want to project? If a driver’s first impression of Modesto and Ceres is based on junkyards, homeless camps and graffiti-scarred aluminum siding, perhaps we have a problem.
So say transportation leaders who want to upgrade what is seen by people in 140,000 vehicles passing daily on the freeway.
“A river should be a vibrant area, a showpiece. In reality, it’s not appealing at all,” said Vito Chiesa of the Tuolumne River as seen from Highway 99, Stanislaus County’s backbone. As a county supervisor, he wants his agency to join with Modesto, Ceres, Turlock and the Stanislaus Council of Governments, which Chiesa chairs, to explore face-lifts all along the freeway.
Modesto’s representatives to StanCOG are onboard.
“If you’re coming through Modesto, you’re going, ‘Oh, that’s not a city I want to stop in,’” said Councilwoman Jenny Kenoyer. “It really isn’t very attractive.”
“(Highway) 99 needs attention,” agreed Councilman Bill Zoslocki. He and Chiesa have little faith that appealing again to the California Department of Transportation, which owns and maintains state freeways, would bear fruit.
So StanCOG will take first steps, most likely in a couple of months when considering how to spend money in the fiscal year starting July 1. Executive Director Carlos Yamzon said he’ll suggest setting aside about $100,000 for a study, and asking the county, Modesto, Ceres and Turlock to chip in more.
A previous push in 2003 died for lack of funding.
“Some would argue that the drought is the worst time to implement a highway beautification project, but I disagree,” said Turlock Mayor Gary Soiseth in his State of the City speech last month. “What better time to take into account drought-tolerant, indigenous plants and trees?
“This investment is not merely aesthetic; it signals to all who might invest in Turlock that we invest in ourselves,” he added.
Chiesa wishes leaders long ago had adopted a long-term tree-planting strategy to shield industrial zones and auto wrecking yards from Highway 99’s view. He also wonders what it would take to prompt building owners to cover or remove graffiti.
“I drive through a lot of other communities and I don’t see quite the degradation,” he said. “We’ll have to take things into our own hands.”
Yamzon said, “You do need some political capital to get anything done.”
Kenoyer suggested that a portion of proceeds from a transportation tax could be dedicated to the effort. StanCOG leaders want to pitch a higher sales tax countywide for road and rail projects in November 2016.
Bee staff writer Garth Stapley can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2390.