Where, exactly, will the North County Corridor go?

Here is a look at the North County Corridor options.
Here is a look at the North County Corridor options.

The long and difficult task of choosing one preferred route for the future North County Corridor — among 18 or so potential plans floated over the years — is over.

On Tuesday, the Modesto City Council became the last agency involved to support Oakdale's preferred path, known as option 1B, joining Oakdale, Riverbank and Stanislaus County. Oakdale likes that route because it's closer than others to Oakdale's south end — good for business — while swinging futher out on its east end, which is deemed better for most neighbors.

A final decision rests with the California Department of Transportation, probably in several months, followed by construction in about five years, assuming leaders find the money.

The future expressway is expected to cost $688 million and stretch about 18 miles, from Tully Road and Kiernan Avenue in north Modesto to Highway 108 east of Oakdale, near Lancaster Road.

Supporters look forward to faster, smoother-flowing traffic and more business opportunities, while others frown at sacrificing 100 homes and three dozen companies now in the way. The government would pay owners fair market value and help relocate those displaced.

Modesto Councilman Doug Ridenour on Tuesday asked the seminal question: Will Caltrans honor the local preference?

Nothing is guaranteed, but county public works director Matt Machado said the four agencies banding together like this carries considerable weight. That agrees with what Grace Magsayo, a Caltrans senior project manager, told The Modesto Bee in September.

In community surveys during a comment period on environmental studies, 87 people said they like option 1B or its variant, 2B, while 28 people would prefer that the expressway run up Stearns Road and connect to Highway 108 near Atlas Road, east of Oakdale. The latter, known as options 1A and 2A, would disrupt the Stearns neighborhood and sacrifice too many homes and businesses, leaders decided.

Although all four agencies achieved consensus, leaders acknowledge a big chore yet to accomplish: helping ConAgra Brands find somewhere else to dispose leftover water after processing vegetables. Much of the land now accepting that wastewater won't be able to when the expressway comes.

ConAgra employs about 1,000 people for products such as Hunt's tomatoes and Rosarita refried beans.

The partnering agencies embraced 1B on condition of finding a solution for ConAgra.

Some leaders praised a public process that narrowed options over time, particularly north of Modesto and south and east of Oakdale where neighbors' concerns helped to find paths causing the least harm.

"It really warms my heart when people get involved, and stand up and try to influence the decision," County Supervisor Terry Withrow said Nov. 1 in a transportation meeting.

Garth Stapley: 209-578-2390