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Oakdale: No Way Out (Or In)
Oakdale Bridge 10-2
The Stanislaus River Bridge provides the only northern route to and from town. In August a propane tanker rolled over, shutting off access into the city and causing major gridlock on the main traffic artery. - photo by RICHARD PALOMA/The Leader

Built in 1931 when brand new Ford Model A cars cruised the roadway, the Stanislaus River Bridge serves as the only northern route accommodating eastbound Highway 120 traffic entering the city.

The two-lane, 417-foot long thoroughfare, feels the weight of over 27,500 vehicles daily as four lanes of Yosemite Avenue are squeezed into single direction lanes on the 60-foot wide crossing over the Stanislaus River.

According to Steve Gonzalez of Caltrans, the last traffic feasibility study of the bridge occurred in 1983.

“Nothing has been conducted since then,” said Gonzalez. “To reevaluate it, even for widening, we would need to hear from the public.”

The bridge had a major facelift with new pavement, railings and a minor widening in 1971.

The pavement now shows signs of wear from decades as the only route into the city from the north.

Due to the inconvenience as the loss of a main artery into Oakdale, any repaving now is done piecemeal or in stages.

If and when the bridge is shut down for any reason, traffic within the city and on Highway 120 grinds to a halt as motorists are directed to lengthy detours with the city cut off from potentially needed emergency aid vehicles that would respond from the northern neighboring communities.

The City of Oakdale recently experienced such a calamity on Aug. 11 when a propane tank became dislodged from a tractor-trailer big rig, causing the tanker to roll on its side on Highway 120 just north of the bridge.

The accident tied up Oakdale Police and CHP for over four hours as a heavy flow of travelers, many returning from weekend trips to Yosemite, Lake Tulloch, Sonora, and other popular area destinations, were diverted at A Street to residential roadways.

Eastbound Highway 120 traffic had to be turned around and rerouted through Escalon to connect with alternate routes from there.

Around the country, municipalities are frantically trying to bolster decaying and lacking traffic infrastructures that they’ve ignored for years. Oakdale is no different as it goes into its overdue general plan. Finances for an upgrade are another story.

“It’s an inconvenience to just have a one-way in and out of that direction,” said Oakdale traffic commissioner J.R. McCarty. “Hopefully the commission and council will address that issue in the upcoming months.”

Councilman Mike Brennan has made no qualms about the need to establish another route and has mentioned the topic at various city council meetings.

“As we plan in our General Plan, we need one more route around that river for general traffic,” said Brennan. “A possible road tax would work to put the route on a list of projects if we could get matching funds from the state and feds.”

Brennan said there are a few logical places that could be routes stating it would be possible to extend Crane Road to River Road or all the way to Highway 120 or Stearns Road to North Oak for local traffic.

Brennan, however, is being a realist about the city and state taking on such a large endeavor.

“The expense is prohibitive,” Brennan said. “We couldn’t afford it in the good times and definitely not now.”

If a project would be developed, Brennan points to probable opposition from land owners due to seizure and sale of the property needed for the roadway and increased traffic and pollution in their area.

“We saw that when the 120 extension was suggested,” said Brennan, “and we’re seeing it now with Stearns (North County Corridor).”

Caltrans officials said they could not provide any input into a possible alternate route.

“We’re kind of stuck between a rock and a hard place,” said Brennan.