November 16, 2013

Our View: Highway 132, McHenry projects should top funding list

There are so many road needs in Stanislaus County and its nine cities that it’s hard to know where to start the list.

There are so many road needs in Stanislaus County and its nine cities that it’s hard to know where to start the list.

Such a list is necessary, however. The county is in line for almost $14 million in Caltrans money to be used for regional improvement program projects over the next five years. The label is important. The money is not to be divvied up among cities to fill potholes on narrow streets, no matter how frustrating those might be. It is to go to regionally significant projects.

There are other criteria as well. The projects must be ready for construction – with plans prepared – and they must reduce congestion or expand capacity or both.

Wednesday, the Stanislaus Council of Governments policy board – which comprises all five county supervisors, three Modesto City Council members and one representative from each of the other eight city councils in Stanislaus County – will vote on the list to be submitted to the California Transportation Commission. The local recommendations must meet the state requirements or the state commission could send the money elsewhere. That would be the worst outcome. It’s important that local leaders stand together and make the right choices.

Five proposals were submitted to StanCOG, the regional transportation planning agency, totaling more than $34 million. Obviously, there is not enough to cover all the wants.

Two of the projects stand out to us because they have been talked about so long and because they provide the opportunity to remedy serious bottlenecks.

• One is the next phase of the Highway 132 west expressway, which will extend from Highway 99 to Dakota Avenue. This project will take big trucks and hundreds of vehicles off of Maze Boulevard, which runs past two elementary schools and two churches. Even with crossing guards on school days, it’s a dangerous street for youngsters – and for adults, for that matter.

Highway 132 is a popular commuter route. In the recent vision presented by the Modesto Chamber of Commerce to improve the local economy, Highway 132 was listed as a high priority. The state started purchasing right of way for this project in the late 1950s. The city of Modesto is asking for $13.7 million for this project.

• The second high-priority project is widening McHenry Avenue between Ladd Road and the Stanislaus River.

This is not just the route to get from Modesto to Escalon; it’s one of the few routes across the Stanislaus River. As we’ve noted before, when the primary route on Highway 99 between Salida and Ripon is unavailable for some reason, then McHenry becomes the next best option for thousands of motorists and trucks.

The 54-year-old bridge is being replaced with a wider span. That $29 million project is already funded for construction starting in 2015. San Joaquin County has taken the lead on it.

Stanislaus County wants $13 million to widen McHenry south of the bridge to the Ladd Road/Patterson Road intersection. We see this as a critical transportation link for people and business on both sides of the river. It surely qualifies as a regional transportation need.

Last month’s StanCOG board meeting got hot, in large part because Turlock representatives insisted they should get $12 million to remake the Fulkerth interchange at Highway 99. Some went so far as to suggest that Turlock would pursue its own sales tax increase for roads if the money isn’t directed to its project.

Turlock and county officials met this week, and we hope they’ve reached a resolution. There are more needs than dollars, but the Highway 132 and McHenry Avenue projects are most pressing and should be on the regional improvement program list that goes to the state Transportation Commission.

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