Bruce Frohman has devoted hours of study to the proposed extension and re-routing of Highway 132, west of Modesto. He’s interviewed Caltrans officials, talked to residents in the area, and investigated the expense involved in dealing with the toxic waste site in the path of the project. Here’s Frohman’s exclusive detailed analysis of the project:
As presently envisioned, the 132 Freeway project can be compared to putting a square peg into a round hole. It doesn’t fit. Not enough money or land has been allocated to build a project that meets current Caltrans freeway construction standards. Logically, the best alternative is one that maximizes safety, minimizes air pollution, and optimizes traffic flow.
Supporters of the freeway project say that more miles of freeway traffic lanes will cure the stunted economic growth of the area. No doubt, more freeways do promote urban growth, but will the 132 freeway bring more business or more houses for commuters to Bay Area jobs? In any case, any freeway built in the Central Valley’s air basin must minimize the creation of additional air pollution in its construction and design or it will add to the region’s economic woes.
JUST A FEW PROBLEMS
As presently proposed, the 132 Freeway project introduces problems that will have the net effect of increasing air pollution and traffic congestion. Based on current proposed maps, here are a few of the problems the new freeway would create.
- The project does not have sufficient funding to build a fly over ramp from northbound Freeway 99 onto the new westbound 132 Freeway. Therefore, all 132 Freeway traffic will need to take an off-ramp that will deliver cars and trucks to the intersection of Franklin Avenue and the Needham Avenue Overpass, on the west side of the Union Pacific railroad.
- The northbound Freeway 99 off ramp at Kansas Avenue must be permanently closed to build the 132 Freeway ramp. Therefore, citizens and businesses north of Kansas Avenue, including Modesto Junior College West Campus, will need to take the same exit ramp as 132 Freeway users or go north to the next exit, which is the infamously congested Briggsmore interchange.
- The Needham Overpass/Franklin Avenue intersection will also receive eastbound 132 Freeway traffic headed into downtown Modesto, Kansas Avenue traffic headed into the downtown, traffic from the Needham Overpass headed to Kansas Avenue and Needham Overpass traffic headed to westbound 132 Freeway.
In summation, large volumes of traffic from four different directions will funnel into a signalized intersection at the 132 Freeway West off-ramp/Needham Overpass for a period of at least 10 years, when additional money may be secured to build the fly over ramp previously mentioned. If additional funds do not become available to build the flyover, this bottleneck intersection could exist in perpetuity and will gradually worsen over time. A substantial amount of air pollution will be created as automobiles and trucks wait for the signal to dribble traffic through the intersection.
ROUND AND ROUND WE GO
Air pollution could be mitigated via a traffic circle, which minimizes wait times from all directions and reduces traffic accidents by up to 90 percent. Motorists will save time and fuel if a traffic circle is built. However, Cal Trans is concerned that a traffic circle might not be able to handle the volume of traffic exiting from northbound Freeway 99. Agency engineers are worried about traffic stacking back onto the northbound Freeway 99 traffic lanes.
Another major design problem: the latest Cal Trans 132 Freeway design presented at an informational meeting in the Stanislaus Council of Governments (STANCOG) conference room on February 20, 2012, shows that there will be no exit ramp at Carpenter Road for westbound 132 Freeway traffic. Cal Trans said that there is not enough distance between Freeway 99 and Carpenter Road and not enough land at Carpenter Road to build a safe interchange.
EVEN MORE AIR POLLUTION?
Carpenter Road is the only major north/south arterial serving the entire west side of the City of Modesto. Failure to provide adequate access and egress to this road will result in added air pollution and travel time as motorists are required to seek longer routes with more urban driving. If the purpose of the freeway is to move traffic, the failure to build an adequate interchange is counterproductive to the goal of promoting economic growth in the area. More air pollution will be generated because of inefficient traffic movement.
The plan shows no westbound exit at Carpenter Road and the permanent closing of the northbound 99 Freeway Kansas Avenue off ramp. The first exit from the westbound 132 Freeway will be at Dakota Road. Thus, in order to get to homes and establishments, residents and businesses located north of Kansas Avenue and west of Freeway 99 must take the 132 Freeway exit northbound off of Freeway 99. Then, the driver must go through the Franklin Avenue/Needham Overpass bottlenecked signalized intersection. Then, everyone will need to proceed north to Kansas Avenue via Franklin Avenue, where there currently is a second signalized intersection. Finally, everyone will turn west on Kansas Avenue. This design will increase the distance everyone drives to get to homes and businesses by about 1/2 mile, adding 3 to 5 minutes to the drive time, and adding air pollution and gasoline costs.
One solution for the lack of adequate land is to build the best interchange with the available land. This can be done only if the speed limit is reduced in the area of a Carpenter Road interchange. The other option is to buy more land for the interchange, which would require the removal of multiple businesses adjacent to the right of way.
Caltrans engineers and the consultant have told this writer that the interchange at Carpenter Road can be built if the 132 Freeway has a lower speed limit in the area around Carpenter Road. However, the project manager does not deem it feasible to grant an exception. The concern is that drivers may ignore a posted lower speed limit that could not be legally justifiable based on California’s 85th percentile rule. The rule says that the speed limit cannot be lower than the speed that 85 percent of the drivers use when on a section of roadway. Posting a lower speed limit than 65 mph might lead to legal proceedings where the roadway would be labled a speed trap.
Another design problem resulting in more air pollution: Proceeding west from the Carpenter Road interchange, the project will necessitate a traffic signal at a Dakota/132 Freeway intersection. A new signalized intersection will generate more starts and stops for traffic and new delays that presently do not exist on the current Maze Road alignment of State Route 132. A traffic circle could be built at the intersection to facilitate constant flow of traffic. This would save $250,000-500,000 in the cost of traffic signal lights as well as future maintenance of the lights. Accidents at the intersection would be 90 percent less than with traffic signals and air quality would also be less adversely impacted.
Both maps of the proposed freeway plan to route westbound travelers back to the Maze Blvd alignment at or west of Dakota Avenue. A second signalized intersection will be built to provide a transition to the Maze roadway alignment. A second traffic circle could be built at the new intersection of Route 132/Maze Blvd.
Many residents and businesses south of Maze Blvd will continue to use westbound Maze Blvd rather than go north to the 132 Freeway. The freeway will jog south to Maze Blvd only two miles west of Carpenter Road, so it won’t make sense to go north to the freeway, only to go south shortly after entering it.
Due to lack of adequate funding, the first phase of the 132 Freeway will be a two lane facility between Freeway 99 and Dakota Road. Traffic engineers predict that the construction of the first phase of the 132 Freeway will actually increase congestion for users of the Route 132 traffic corridor. More cars are expected to use the Route 132 traffic corridor when the freeway is opened. Congestion will occur at the signalized intersections and on the two lane section west of the freeway’s first phase. The added congestion will then be used to justify asking legislators for more construction money to build future phases of the freeway.
THE TOXIC WASTE PROBLEM
Perhaps, the biggest question mark for the entire project will be how a toxic waste site in the right of way will be mitigated. As of this writing, the cost is unknown and freeway construction cannot begin until a plan to fix the problem is nailed down. The toxic waste site exists within the right of way of the future State Route 132 Freeway. The site is located just south of Kansas Avenue, in three separate piles between Emerald Avenue on the west and an area immediately adjacent to the east side of freeway 99.
The toxic waste site was created in the 1960’s when Freeway 99 was built. Soil was moved from the bottom of FMC Corporation’s settling ponds and deposited within the right of way to form the base for a future elevated 132 freeway. The three separate piles hold a total of approximately 120,000 cubic yards of toxic soil, containing Barium and Strontium Sulfate ores, and other minerals. The soil has been in that location, exposed to the weather, for about 50 years. Depending on how the site is to be mitigated, the money necessary for the mitigation may need to come from the 132 Freeway construction money. If the mitigation cost is expensive, one cannot presently predict what percentage of the phase one project will actually be built.
GIVE IT UP?
The scope of this article does not include a discussion of the negative impacts to the farming community of this project. Nor does it discuss the negative impacts of additional traffic on the wildlife refuge in the Mapes Ranch area. Given the lack of adequate funds and land to build the best alternative phase one facility for the 132 Freeway, the “No Build” option may deserve consideration. If the project is to become a significant detriment to the future well-being of the community, the project should be abandoned.