January 21, 2014

Roundabout could tie future North County Corridor to Highway 108 east of Oakdale

A roundabout could tie the future North County Corridor, skirting Modesto and Riverbank, to Highway 108 east of Oakdale.

A roundabout should tie the future North County Corridor to Highway 108 east of Oakdale, according to the latest plans.

The traffic management feature, which drivers seem to adore and despise, has increasingly popped up across the region, although not usually on major highways.

“It’s completely doable and will function quite well,” said Matt Machado, Stanislaus County’s public works director.

He and other transportation officials intend to unveil maps with greater detail, including the Highway 108 roundabout, at a public meeting at the Riverbank Community Center in early March. The time and date have yet to be announced.

In another change to previous plans, officials are leaning toward building an interchange where Coffee and Claribel roads meet, between Modesto and Riverbank. An interchange would accommodate a heavier traffic load than a signal light, they say.

The drought, now in its third year, has delayed crucial environmental studies at least a couple of years because scientists have not been able to see whether the future freeway might disrupt fairy shrimp in vernal pools during wet seasons. The freeway partners – the county, Modesto, Riverbank and Oakdale – and newly hired consultants have persuaded the California Department of Transportation to go along with predictions that assume the shrimp exist, allowing them to stay on track, although other state and federal agencies have yet to sign off.

Officials in August fired their previous consultant, Jacobs Engineering, which had lost key employees, and hired Drake Haglan & Associates, which hopes to produce draft studies in August. Local agencies initially contracted to pay Jacobs $5.8 million and now expect to pay a total of $10.4 million between the two firms.

The initial vision of a 26-mile freeway linking Salida to Oakdale was downsized to a $400 million stretch of expressway, considered inferior to a freeway, from Modesto’s Tully Road to the Highway 108 roundabout east of Oakdale, likely near Stearns Road or Wamble Road. Recent and future improvements to Kiernan Avenue will handle the new traffic flow north of Modesto to Highway 99, officials say.

They hope the roadway will smooth traffic and help boost trade, while critics fear loss of rural land and quality of life. Hundreds await final selection of an exact route; that’s a year or two away, with construction several years beyond that.

County Supervisor Bill O’Brien, who represents that area of east Stanislaus County, continues to lament settling for a lower-quality roadway, noting that the vision of a first-class, free-flowing freeway has been replaced with “a mixture of interchanges, stoplights and roundabouts.”

He isn’t sold on the roundabout idea, saying, “That’s a whole lot of traffic for a highway.”

Machado said such traffic circles on Modesto’s Roselle Avenue have performed admirably, moving large numbers of vehicles with minimal wait, and could handle much more traffic. The proposed two-lane, Highway 108-North County Corridor roundabout would allow vehicles to move smoothly, as opposed to delays at a signal light, he said.

Meanwhile, consultants are trying to secure new agreements for more scientific surveys from owners of more than 1,000 parcels. Previously granted permission expired, and consultants had obtained new agreements with only 385 owners a couple of weeks ago.

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