Highway 132 rerouting west from Modesto could start soon. Planning dates to 1950s

Futuristic look at the revamped Highway 132

Here's a look into the future of Highway 132 in west Modesto, CA. The first phase is expected to be completed by 2020.
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Here's a look into the future of Highway 132 in west Modesto, CA. The first phase is expected to be completed by 2020.

Construction could finally start soon on rerouting Highway 132 west from Modesto, a decades-old idea for easing traffic to and from downtown.

The city has called for bids on the project’s first phase, which will cost an estimated $82 million and could be completed by early 2021. It will be a two-lane road without cross traffic for about three miles between Needham Street and Dakota Road.

The new state highway segment will run about half a mile north of Maze Boulevard, which is the current Highway 132. Maze has numerous homes, businesses, schools and churches along it, less than ideal conditions for the cars and semis passing by.

“What you will see is smoother traffic for goods and services and also the traveling public,” said Jaylen French, director of community and economic development for the city, in a phone interview Friday.

The second phase, expected by 2028, would bring the new highway segment to four lanes at an estimated cost of $132 million.

A third phase, still in initial planning, could extend the new alignment as far west as Gates Road. The current highway ends at Interstate 580 and is used by some of the Stanislaus County commuters to Bay Area jobs.

(Details of Highway 132 plan)

Funding for the first phase comes from numerous county, state and federal programs. It is the most prominent use to date of Measure L, a sales tax increase approved by county voters in 2016.

Discussion of rerouting 132 dates at least to 1956, according to a news release last month from the Stanislaus Council of Governments. It coordinates road and transit planning for the county and its nine cities.

The California Department of Transportation started buying right of way for the new alignment in 1958. This strip of land, just south of Kansas Avenue, has sat vacant as the project stalled.

Caltrans also created three berms for the new highway segment with soil tainted with barium from FMC Corp., which operated a long-gone chemical plant nearby. Today’s plan calls for containing the material in the new fill and pavement, an idea opposed by many neighbors.

The new road will have overpasses or underpasses at Rosemore Avenue, Carpenter Road, Emerald Avenue and Highway 99. Its east end will be at the Needham Avenue bridge over Ninth Street, completed in 2004. Its west end will connect with the current 132 via a half mile of new pavement on Dakota.

Contractors have until Aug. 20 to bid on the project. The Modesto City Council could award the contract Sept. 24, clearing the way for construction to start in October, French said.

Council members Jenny Kenoyer and Bill Zoslocki were on hand last month when the California Transportation Commission formally allotted the long-expected state money.

“This project was conceived in 1956,” Zoslocki said in the news release, “and we are so excited that after 63 years, we are going to break ground on this important project for our region this year.”

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John Holland covers breaking news and has been with The Modesto Bee since 2000. He has covered agriculture for the Bee and at newspapers in Sonora and Visalia. He was born and raised in San Francisco and has a journalism degree from UC Berkeley.