If Highway 99 ever becomes Interstate 99, it will owe no thanks to Stanislaus County.
A regional push to elevate the San Joaquin Valley's backbone to federal interstate status failed to gather an iota of support Wed-nesday from transportation leaders here.
The cost of upgrading to meet federal standards, $900 million, is too risky a gamble for the benefits an interstate freeway might bring, Stanislaus Council of Governments policy board members decided.
A bipartisan pair of Southern San Joaquin Valley congressmen had asked transportation leaders in each of the valley's eight counties to unite behind the interstate push.
An upgrade would help recruit large companies with jobs, say Reps. Devin Nunes, R-Visalia, and Jim Costa, D-Fresno. Highway 99 would boast at least six lanes, with eight in Stanislaus County and on other high-volume stretches.
"You've got one of the busiest corridors in the state, from Bakersfield to Sacramento, moving not only agricultural goods but thousands of valley residents every day," said Turlock native Bret Rumbeck, Costa's communications director, in an interview. "Turning 99 into an interstate would help bring federal funds needed for more improvements."
Each day, Highway 99 carries up to four times as many vehicles and 40,000 more large trucks than its parallel track to the west, Interstate 5, in the valley. But Highway 99 doesn't even measure up to the California Department of Transportation's freeway standards, which would require $700 million in improvements.
Stanislaus County Supervisor Jim DeMartini, a StanCOG member, said some federal standards set decades ago no longer are relevant. For example, many overpasses would have to be widened or raised -- reportedly to allow for smooth transport of since-outdated nuclear arms.
"It's senseless to raise them up for missiles we don't have anymore," DeMartini said after the meeting.
The issue, having been vetted in lower-level committees, provoked no comment Wednesday from the 12 StanCOG members, representing the county and its nine cities.
"I think it was clear to the policy board that there is not a benefit," county Supervisor Jeff Grover said afterward. He has complained in the past about south valley officials using the entire valley's clout for their own roadway advantage while excluding north valley counties.
Whether the other seven counties support the idea could not immediately be determined. Caltrans District 10 spokeswoman Lisa Balcom said her agency remains neutral.
A Caltrans consultant in April drew no audible support from StanCOG's policy board when he pitched the idea of the eight valley counties setting aside 10 percent of their precious federal transportation money for Highway 99. That would cost the county and its nine cities $2.1 million every two years for about 24 years. Pursuing improvements independently could take decades, he said.
Bee staff writer Garth Stapley can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2390.