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Bypass Overview Draws 100 Plus To Meeting

POSTED June 22, 2011 12:36 a.m.
Planning for the “bypass” — otherwise known as the North County Corridor project — hasn’t gone away. While planning began in 2008 and the first phase of construction is not slated to begin until 2018, the public interest continues to run high. Area residents just haven’t had a recent meeting.
Well over 100 people, including Stanislaus County supervisors, Bill O’Brien and Terry Withrow, turned out for a Riverbank Community Center meeting on Thursday evening and learned more details of the project in talks by officials and through viewing the maps spread over several rows of tables.
North County Corridor Transportation Expressway Authority Manager Matt Machado sketched the history of the project and Senior Environmental Planner Gail Miller of the California Department of Transportation handled the environmental questions.
The proposal is to construct a west-east freeway/expressway of approximately 25 miles from State Route 99 either at Hammett Road or Kiernan Avenue to State Route 120 east of Oakdale connecting to it at one of three points, either at South Stearns, Wamble Road or an unnamed point still further east.
Whittled down from an original 18 alternatives to two, the route is projected to run south of Riverbank/Oakdale and north of Modesto and generally follow existing Kiernan Avenue and Claribel Road. That is until it reaches a point east of Terminal Avenue and the railroad tracks in Riverbank for one alternative and at Albers Road for the other alternative when both routes would veer northeast to join State Route 120.
The purpose, said Machado, is to improve regional road circulation, reduce congestion and accommodate future traffic. The project is also expected to benefit commerce in the three cities of Oakdale, Riverbank and Modesto and Stanislaus County, enhance traffic safety and facilitate the regional movement of goods and people.
The existing roads are heavily traveled, and suffer a traffic accident rate 35 percent higher than the state average besides sustaining road-rail accidents at railroad crossings.
“We’re basically following Claribel. We heard you loud and clear,” Machado told his audience.
Construction will start at the east end of the project where it connects to State Route 120 and proceed westwards to McHenry Avenue, he said, noting the route from McHenry Avenue to State Route 99 will at first be “only a line on the map with no ground disturbance.”
Asked what eventually stopped the North Oakdale Bypass, Machado said it was opposition from both residents and businesses on the assumption a northern bypass would push commercial uses into agricultural land north of town.
“Wherever it goes, it will be an inconvenience for somebody,” he said of the new route. “We’re keeping to the corridor along Claribel running it close to urban areas and clear of farmland.”
One woman from the audience claimed many Oakdale stores even large ones like K-Mart and SaveMart were apprehensive they would lose business to other towns.
“They are afraid that Oakdale businesses will dry up and blow away,” she said. “Budgets for city services like fire and police are already in trouble and you should be helping us not harming us.
“Why is Oakdale not fighting this? Where are the mayor and council members?”
Machado replied Oakdale officials support the bypass, the traffic through Oakdale and Riverbank is already at capacity during rush hour with many accidents and even with a bypass many local drivers will continue to go through Oakdale and patronize its stores.
Ken Cosner, a Riverbank resident and Oakdale businessman, made a comparison with Sonora, noting its Mono Way businesses are still thriving even after a bypass extension. He also recommended the Authority reserve one or more middle lanes for light rail or a bus lane, noting how quickly the extra lanes on the Manteca bypass filled up with vehicle traffic. Machado observed public transportation ridership is insufficient to justify more than a bus route at the moment.
Responding to a question from resident John Blakely, Machado said Kiernan Avenue will be constructed at four lanes but with a right of way for six lanes as far east as McHenry Avenue.
For another questioner, he confirmed the bypass would be a mix of expressway and freeway. It will lack full interchanges at its east end but become more like a freeway as it moves westward. The Oakdale Road intersection, he suspected, would have a full cloverleaf interchange.
Miller said the environmental process is moving along. It is reaching the point where project personnel will need to physically get onto private property, she said, in asking owners to cooperate and not oppose their visits.
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