State

Supervisors back measure for 99-to-120 expressway

Eager to retain $91 million of state road money, Stanislaus County leaders Tuesday unanimously supported legislation for an expressway north of Modesto.

The money previously was designated for an Oakdale bypass. That idea was replaced a couple of years ago by the North County Corridor, a 26-mile freeway from Highway 99 at Salida running south of Riverbank and Oakdale to connect with Highway 120 near Lovers' Leap.

Legislation by Sen. Dave Cogdill, R-Modesto, would enable the California Transportation Commission to redirect the money to the North County Corridor's 17-mile leg east of McHenry Avenue, which would become Highway 108. The west portion would not be an official state highway but would function similarly, with few stops.

Several dozen property owners who might be in the way say the expressway could degrade homes, farms and country living north of Modesto.

While awaiting designation of a preferred route in coming months, many have urged officials to avoid their properties by upgrading Kiernan Avenue and Claribel Road.

Roadside signs label the state road from Oakdale to Sonora "Highway 108-120," but Highway 108 officially ends in Oakdale, said consulting engineer Kris Balaji. Cogdill's Senate Bill 532 would fix that as well, he said.

Draft environmental studies should be released in August and will be followed by public meetings in September.

Supervisor Bill O'Brien abstained to avoid a possible conflict of interest because he is part owner of a grocery store on Highway 108 in Riverbank. County Counsel John Doering said he has asked for a ruling from the state Fair Political Practices Commission on whether O'Brien could resume voting on the North County Corridor in the future.

In other action, the supervisors adopted plans for a $3 million storm drain project in central Empire, including new streets, curbs and gutters. State grants and county redevelopment money was set aside for construction, which could begin in October and finish by June.

However, county officials intend to create a services district composed of affected property owners to pay for street sweeping and park services. Annual fees have yet to be determined.

Bee staff writer Garth Stapley can be reached at gstapley@modbee.com or 578-2390.

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