Environmentalists are notorious about opposing freeway projects , but the Sierra Club and other environmental organizations have been quiet about the 132 freeway plan. Either the project has not caught their attention or they just don’t care about the Valley because local politics are dominated by anti-environment interest groups. Regardless of the reasons for political silence, a discussion is needed because the 132 freeway will be a disaster.
State Route 132 runs through a wildlife refuge where it crosses the San Joaquin River flood plain. A multitude of bird species and other wildlife inhabit the refuge, which floods during wet years. The freeway project will bring thousands of more cars daily through the wetlands, diverting Bay Area traffic from freeways 99, 120, and 205. No environmental impact study has been done for sensitive species since 2003 or earlier. Caltrans simply made a negative declaration in its environmental impact report.
Route 132 is a winding levee road through the wildlife refuge. Impact on the levee itself from added traffic was not considered because that section of roadway will not be improved during the first phase of the freeway construction project.
More Traffic Congestion
The first phase of the Route 132 Freeway Project will only build from Freeway 99 west to Dakota Road. Like a dam breaking, the project will release a flood of cars onto a two lane facility and then route traffic onto the old road at Dakota Avenue. Already congested during rush hour, the new route will add more cars and trucks, increase air pollution and noise all along the route, and result in a torturous driving experience.
Proponents say that the new facility will shorten travel time from Modesto to the Bay Area. Added congestion will more than offset any benefit of the new roadway. Travel time will increase due to congestion; more traffic will result in more artery clogging delays from accidents.
The Caltrans philosophy is to create more congestion so that more money can be secured to build more roads. By making Route 132 more congested, the logic goes, more money will come sooner to build more freeways. Degradation of the environment is not a consideration.
Building Over a Toxic Waste Dump
On the east end of the 132 Freeway project, Caltrans plans to build on top of a toxic waste dump currently in the right of way near Emerald Avenue in Modesto. The thinking is if concrete is put on top, no one will notice the dump. Caltrans says the proposal is a safe way of handling toxic waste, ignoring the fact that concrete deteriorates over time and that water will eventually seep into the dump and endanger groundwater.
In time, everyone will forget that the dump exists. Who cares about the health of future generations anyway?
At the intersection of the 132 Freeway and 99 Freeway, Caltrans will not be building a flyover from northbound 99 to westbound 132. Instead, traffic will exit to a signalized intersection at Needham and Franklin Avenues and then turn west onto route 132. The intersection will be congested as large numbers of vehicles from three arterials will need to go through it, including Kansas Avenue, Needham Avenue, and the 99 Freeway. The congestion will delay motorists and add to air pollution.
Currently, the only traffic signal between Interstate 580 and Carpenter Road is at Hart Road. During rush hour, the back-up and delay at the signal can be considerable. The new project will add signals at Dakota and the new freeway (presently called expressway until it is upgraded to a freeway in 10-20 years) and at Dakota and Maze. Imagine how two new signals will degrade traffic, add to travel time and add air pollution.
Why Do This Project?
Given the amount of environmental degradation, added traffic congestion, and added travel time this “road improvement” will cause, why would anyone want the project built with the current planned configuration?
Considering the project was originally planned over 50 years ago, the delay in starting was not only warranted, but continues to be justified. Caltrans says it can’t do a better project because not enough money is available to build it right. If it can’t be done right, why do it at all?
About The Author
Bruce Frohman served on the Modesto City Council from 1999-2003. He believes the best way to build a better community is to have an informed citizenry.