The prospect of a new expressway stretching across much of northern Stanislaus County brought a mixed bag of comments from some of the hundreds of people attending Thursday's open house meeting, ranging from excitement at the thought of less traffic to despair over losing homes, churches and businesses.
"They're about ready to take our dream away," said J.D. Godkin. After a lifetime of working and saving, he and his wife finally realized their dream of owning a 10-acre ranch near Oakdale a few years ago, but two of four potential paths for the big road would consume a fifth of their property.
Much will depend on which alternative the California Department of Transportation chooses, in about a year. If all goes as planned, construction could start in about five years.
Supporters look forward to smooth sailing on a road stretching about 20 miles, from a point east of Oakdale to north Modesto, bypassing Oakdale and Riverbank in between. The expressway would reduce driving times and be much safer than existing Highway 108 with its many stop lights, transportation leaders say.
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On the other hand, the road would sacrifice more than 100 homes and some three dozen businesses. The government would pay owners fair market value and help relocate those displaced, but many would rather not go through the hassle.
"It will be hard to replace at any cost," said Michael Helbling, who owns a building on Kiernan Avenue a bit west of McHenry Avenue housing four businesses, two of whom have occupied their spaces since it was constructed 28 years ago.
"Tenants are panicking, asking questions I don't have answers for," Helbling said. "It's frustrating."
Gaye Steeley would not lose her home, but worries about property values dropping. "Who is going to buy your property with a freeway right behind?" she said. "It's disheartening to know that everything you've invested, you're not getting back."
Victor Secheslingloff, however, thinks a thoroughfare skirting his Olive Lane mobile home park, on Claus Road near Claribel Road, will bring more business. "It's hard to get that kind of exposure," he said. "This just might be a good project in the end."
Debbie Souza hopes reconfiguration improves the intersection of Claribel and Terminal Avenue, where she has seen too many wrecks from her home. "Maybe this will solve that. It might save someone's life," she said.
Leaders learned only Thursday that the public feedback period on newly released draft environmental documents will extend to Oct. 16 instead of ending Sept. 22. "That gives everyone more chance to comment," said Matt Machado, public works director for Stanislaus County.
"It does matter, to hear from the public," said Caltrans' Grace Magsayo. Her agency's decision on which of the four alignments to choose would be much easier if local agencies — the county, Modesto, Riverbank and Oakdale — agree on a preference, she said.
Depending on the final selection, the North County Corridor would displace from 114 to 136 homes, 33 to 42 businesses, and from seven to 16 farms.
Most of the discussion is focused east of Riverbank, with two options south of Oakdale and two more east of Oakdale.
ConAgra, which has operated an Oakdale food processing plant more than a century, disposes of some waste water on farm land in the way of one alternative south of Oakdale. Company representatives denounced that option at Tuesday's City Council meeting.
Machado on Thursday said the government would be required to replace whatever wastewater capacity ConAgra loses, if that route is selected.
To the east, the Oakdale council has endorsed the option furthest out, ending with a roundabout on Highway 108 near Lancaster Road instead of joining the highway at Atlas Road. The Atlas option would sacrifice more homes.
Leaders don't have near the money needed: from $660 million to $699 million. They're busy seeking state and federal grants, and their success will determine when construction starts. Machado's best guess is about five years, he said.
The draft Environmental Impact Report is available in the documents tab at www.dot.ca.gov/d10/x-project-sr108northcountycorridor.html. Hard copies can be viewed at public libraries in Modesto, Riverbank and Oakdale. Comments may be submitted by Oct. 16 to firstname.lastname@example.org, or mailed to the California Department of Transportation, 855 M St., Suite 200, Fresno, 93721.
Garth Stapley: 209-578-2390, email@example.com.