McHenry Avenue in Modesto gets smooth

M eet the new McHenry Avenue. Made famous (and infamous) by decades of young cruisers, its pavement was as knotty as a beehive hairdo. Now asphalt stretches ahead as slick and dark as Wolfman Jack's greased-back locks.

"Oh, my God! It's so wonderful now!" said Renee Baptist, MAX bus driver on Route 22, the main McHenry line. "No more headache, not all that rattling. Nice and quiet. So, thank you very much. Thank you."

Baptist and fellow drivers agreed the old McHenry was "just awful" — punishing to drive and hard to maneuver. Pulling in and out of the badly pitted bus stops was a dusty, gritty mess for patrons.

"Now it's smooth sailing," Baptist said, adding, "Do Ninth (Street). Ninth should be next."

West Modesto residents Don and Jean Calkins would disagree — heavily trafficked Kansas and Woodland avenues are worse than McHenry ever was, they said. But both appreciated a smooth bike ride Sunday on the new pavement.

"I used to do some paving, and I was surprised at how much material they laid down," mused Don Calkins. Now the road is more like those in other states, he added.

"We travel a lot. You can really tell you're back in Modesto when you hit those streets."

Jerry Diaz of Modesto minced no words. The new pavement: "Beautiful." The old pavement: "Horrible."

A marathon bike rider, Diaz said, "We get used to rough paved roads." The McHenry stretch was worst at the end of the ride, he added, when legs were tired and the tush was sore. Now? "Fresh-paved road is always a good thing," he smiled.

But it would be better with bike lanes.

"With a bicycle, the potholes and cracks are particularly bad," said John Gerling of Modesto. The new surface is nice for drivers, he added, but heavy traffic and parking lanes on both sides will keep bicyclists away. "No matter how good the pavement, it's still not bike-friendly."

$5.65 million for 3½ miles

Gerling and Diaz participated in Sunday's Livestrong bike ride put on by Fun Sport Bikes in McHenry Village, at the high-traffic corner of McHenry and Briggsmore Avenue.

"It's a major, major intersection for Modesto, and it was really so pitted there where all the trucks turn," said Sheri Merenda, owner of Farmer's Daughter in McHenry Village. "I think (the repaving) is wonderful — much needed," she said while bowling with family Sunday at McHenry Bowl.

Modesto's workhorse commercial corridor waited years for its makeover. State funding paid for the redo, and the project traveled the same rocky road as other state- budget-tied undertakings. Modesto's George Reed Co. won the $5.65 million contract to repave the 3½-mile strip from Five Points to Coralwood Road. Work began in early summer. Painting, shoring up manholes and leveling with connecting streets is expected to be done over the next month.

Next, the California Department of Transportation is turning north, to where three signals eventually will smooth travel past and through the eastbound turn of state Highway 108 toward Riverbank.

The three signals will outline the triangular lot at McHenry Avenue and Ladd and Patterson roads where Al's Furniture sits, bracing for six months of noise, dust and limited customer access. Construction is expected to start Nov. 1, said Al's owner Rick Walker, just as the all-important holiday buying season begins.

"Next week, we're starting our Road Construction Survival Sale," Walker said with a groan. Construction will close one of his three lot entry points permanently and limit the Ladd driveway to entries only. Customers will be able to come in and out (turning right) on the McHenry side.

"It will (eventually) improve our situation 100 percent, with streetlights on all the corners," Walker said. "It's going to be fantastic — if I can just live through it."

Bee staff writer Nanette Austin can be reached at