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Wanted: Your opinion on North County Corridor

The time for speaking up about the North County Corridor has arrived.

People with axes to grind or rose petals to scatter have registered hundreds, if not thousands, of comments about the future expressway stretching across north Stanislaus County.

But only comments received since environmental studies were released two weeks ago will count on the official record.

The easiest way to be heard might be to show up Tuesday in Oakdale for the first of two town hall-type public hearings, or the second next week in Riverbank.

Agendas show open house displays and chances to chat with transportation officials starting at 5:30 p.m., with a more formal presentation at 6:30 followed by public statements at a microphone until about 8. A court reporter will record input.

"Your comments will become part of the public record," reads a notice distributed by the California Department of Transportation. Its partners in the vision of a $1.2 billion, 26-mile freeway from Salida to Oakdale are Stanislaus County, Modesto, Riverbank, Oakdale and the Stanislaus Council of Governments.

Caltrans' recently released studies suggest traffic delays increasing 500 percent in 20 years without the North County Corridor. A smooth-flowing, limited-access expressway should improve the accident rate from north Modesto to Oakdale, which is about 35 percent higher than the statewide average for comparable roads, Caltrans says.

Quality of life concerns

Most people showing up for monthly meetings of the freeway's joint powers authority are landowners concerned with diminishing quality of life. Many own farms or homes in a 2,000-foot-wide swath being studied before Caltrans decides on a precise route, which might occur in 2012.

The freeway's 18-mile eastern leg of four to six lanes, from McHenry Avenue to Highway 108 six miles east of Oakdale, could break ground in five to 10 years. The western portion, widening to eight lanes at Highway 99 in Salida, could be complete by 2030.

The east leg could force out 670 people living in 124 homes and 266 workers in nine stores, 27 industrial buildings and 37 farm buildings, according to the draft environmental report.

The potential toll includes 95 trailers in two mobile home parks, a gas station, apartment house and 55-year-old steel plant at McHenry and Kiernan avenues and 3,000 agricultural acres, the report says.

However, traffic counts on Claribel Road just east of McHenry could climb 261 percent without the North County Corridor relieving pressure on nearby streets, the study says.

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

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