State

Study: Northern freeway should run near Oakdale, Riverbank

Transportation leaders should choose a route close to Oakdale and Riverbank for that segment of the future North County Corridor, a recently released report says.

Consultants studying plans for a 26-mile freeway north of Modesto have looked at two options for the eastern stretch south of Oakdale. The one nearest the city would save more time for drivers, provide quicker access for cars and delivery trucks, and allow drivers to more easily spot highway stores, according to a final environmental impact report.

The preferred route also poses fewer threats to "historic and archaeological resources," and threatened and endangered species, and should produce less air pollution, the study says.

Also, a portion follows Hetch Hetchy water and power lines, which should make buying private land for the expressway much easier because officials could avoid bisecting many farms, the report says.

California Department of Transportation commissioners are expected to review the 1,206-page report May 19.

If approved then, the state would launch into a process of more studies, look for $1.2 billion to pave the eastern portion of the road and eventually whittle the 2,000-foot-wide paths officials have studied down to about 300 feet, perhaps in a couple of years.

Oakdale and Riverbank leaders previously endorsed the preferred route, called Corridor B in the report. It runs largely parallel to the north side of Patterson and Warnerville roads. Soon-to-be discarded Corridor A hugged Claribel Road two or three miles to the south; a segment near Claribel is retained for the North County Corridor's path to the west, south of Riverbank.

While the grand plan links Highway 99 in Salida to Highway 108 east of Oakdale, a first phase focuses on the stretch running east from Modesto's McHenry Avenue. It could open by 2025, the report says.

Comments from hundreds of people helped shape the environmental document, including the recommendation for Corridor B, the study says. For example, members of the Jongsma and Ardis families contended that Corridor A could destroy their Oak-dale farms.

In other comments to Caltrans, dozens showed no affection for any part of the North County Corridor.

"This has got to be the more bizarre idea I have ever seen anyone dream up," wrote Linda Hagen of Modesto. Brad Barker, chairman of the Yokuts Group of the Sierra Club, wrote, "Building new roads to fix congestion is like buying bigger pants to cure obesity."

Rural living endangered

Many complained that the expressway would devalue property and ruin a quiet country setting. Kimberly Meyer, who lives north of Modesto, pleaded, "Please do not wipe away everything we love and the type of living we have worked so hard to have."

A few, however, noted that a smooth-flowing freeway should help people get around with fewer hassles.

The expressway "is critical to a healthy, vibrant economy and quality of life for today's residents and tomorrow's needs," wrote Oakdale City Manager Steve Hallam.

"This is a great project, about 40 years later than it should be. Let's do it!" wrote Mike Schonhoff of Oakdale.

The report says that the preferred route near Oakdale, Corridor B, would consume 64 homes as opposed to 54 in Corridor A. But B would displace fewer farms (one) and industrial buildings (13) compared to A (nine and 37, respectively). All told, 137 structures would have to go for A compared to 78 with B, the report says.

Those projections are worst-case scenarios. The road would impact fewer properties when it's built because it would be 300 feet wide whereas the study area looks at a 2,000-foot-wide strip.

Corridor B would save drivers from 5 percent to 8 percent in travel time, according to the document. The numbers don't include more populated areas to the west. A draft report estimated that the freeway leg east of McHenry would displace 670 people in 124 homes and 266 workers in nine stores, 27 industrial buildings and 37 farm buildings.

The North County Corridor could reduce Kiernan Avenue traffic north of Modesto by 55 percent, and reduce cars on Claribel Road east of Roselle Avenue by 30,000 per day, the study says.

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

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