Millions of federal dollars headed to Stanislaus County for one of its busiest roads

State Highway 132 sign on Kansas Avenue directing traffic to North Dakota Avenue in West Modesto, Calif., on Saturday, March 10, 2018.
State Highway 132 sign on Kansas Avenue directing traffic to North Dakota Avenue in West Modesto, Calif., on Saturday, March 10, 2018.

Top officials from Modesto and Stanislaus County are pleased with a $9 million federal grant announced last week for the long-awaited Highway 132 project.

The city and county have not seen this kind of federal transportation money before. They are giving credit to the leverage of Measure L local transportation dollars.

And they're heaping praise on Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Turlock.

“It is huge for our area,” said Rosa Park, executive director of the Stanislaus Council of Governments, which administers transportation funding for the county and its nine cities.

The pitch for the Measure L half percent sales tax, passed by voters countywide in 2016, stressed that local matching dollars were crucial for getting federal transportation money. City and county officials said the $9 million TIGER program grant is the first example, and expect more to come.

City officials said the project received persistent support from Denham, who chairs a transportation and infrastructure subcommittee in the House of Representatives.

Of the 41 projects in 43 states awarded funding from the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery program, the effort to realign Highway 132 west of Highway 99 was the only application in California to get a piece of the $500 million.

"The city has benefited greatly from having advocates in our nation’s capital who understand the value of efficient transportation in and through the Central Valley,” Modesto Mayor Ted Brandvold said in a news release. "We appreciate our entire California delegation and our hometown congressman, Jeff Denham, who fought hard for this project."

Millions of dollars in federal, state and local funding are needed for "The Gateway Express" Highway 132 realignment.

In the first phase, the new route will begin at Highway 132 and Dakota Avenue and extend north for a half mile to a point just south of Kansas Avenue. From there, two lanes parallel to Kansas Avenue will run between Dakota and Highway 99.

The long-awaited work will also improve the Fifth and Sixth street connections to Highway 99. Two additional phases will create four lanes and extend the realigned route to Gates Road.

With the realigned route, trucks hauling agricultural commodities can avoid congested areas of Modesto and general traffic is expected to flow more easily.

Construction costs for the first phase are an estimated $82 million and costs for the entire Highway 99-to-Gates route could approach $260 million. So additional funds are needed for the highway project.

Though the state acquired the land decades ago, Councilman Bill Zoslocki said local jurisdictions have worked on a concerted effort to push things forward since 2009. An environmental review was completed recently, and the TIGER grant is expected to create momentum for getting more state and federal funding.

"It was hard work and a coordinated effort from our local jurisdictions,” said Zoslocki, who talked about 132 on four trips with local delegates to Washington, D.C.

County Supervisor Vito Chiesa pointed out that state grant awards tend to follow the federal money. The Gateway project relies on a combination of state and federal funding and Measure L dollars reserved for regional roads. "This is a huge step in the right direction, something we have not been able to get in the past,” Chiesa said.

Paul Van Konynenburg, a Modesto businessman and member of the California Transportation Commission, said Measure L is the crucial piece for the mosaic of funding needed for Highway 132.

"I see this TIGER grant as the first domino that starts the dominos falling,” he said. “This was the only project in California that was funded and there were probably thousands of applications. That only happens with Measure L and Congressman Denham’s work.”

Almost 65 percent of the TIGER funding awarded this week is going to rural areas of the country. The federal program supports road, transit, maritime and rail improvements.

"At a time when we see increased congestion and travel times, this project will move trucks around (Modesto) and improve commute times on local roads," Denham said in announcing the grant for Modesto. "This grant will get Valley goods to market faster while reducing traffic and improving the public safety of Modesto residents."