News Item: Caltrans has announced that on Monday, August 18, a public meeting will be held to discuss current plans and timetable for phase one construction of the 132 West Freeway project. The meeting will be held at the King-Kennedy Memorial Center, 601 North Martin Luther King Junior Drive, in Modesto, from 6:30 to 8:00pm.
On July 31, 2014, the Project Implementation Plan Committee (PIP) for Highway 132 met to update stakeholders in Modesto. Though I’m a committee member and was available to attend, I wasn’t notified.
The meeting was sparsely attended. It was the first meeting in over a year and there is no future meeting scheduled. Two members of the PIP Committee, Scott Calkins and Terhesa Gamboa, contributed to this report. Mr. Calkins is a teacher at Modesto High School and Ms. Gamboa is chairperson for the Woodland West Neighborhood Association.
What to Expect August 18
Caltrans plans to post maps showing what the freeway will look like after the $167 million first phase. At last report, only about $50 million had been secured. Earlier this year, Supervisor Terry Withrow said additional funding was coming. The actual funds available may be reported at the upcoming meeting.
The 132 West Freeway now has two project managers. Ms. Debra “Sam” Haack is the manager in charge of the toxic waste berms. Ms. Grace Masayo is the new project manager for other aspects of the project.
Ms. Haack told the PIP committee that the toxic waste berms on Emerald Avenue are safe. She said that Caltrans intends to proceed with the project as presented two years ago, with a concrete cap to keep the soil in place.
The wishes of citizens living near the site who want to have the berms removed will be ignored, as will requests to make the freeway below grade from Freeway 99 to Carpenter Road. According to Ms. Masayo, a below grade freeway won’t be considered unless elected officials make a request. Such a request isn’t likely. Local representatives seem to want the project built as soon as possible, regardless of the wishes of those who live near the right of way.
The First Phase
The configuration and boundaries of the 132 West Freeway will remain the same as the maps presented over two years ago. An incomplete interchange will be built at the junction of Freeway 99 and the 132 West Freeway.
Cars will leave Northbound Freeway 99, go through a signalized intersection, and then proceed west on 132. A ramp will not be built. East bound traffic will have a smooth transition from the 132 Freeway onto the 99 South Freeway, but traffic headed downtown will encounter the same signal at Franklin and Needham Streets. Carpenter Road will only have a partial interchange, with limited access and egress, even though it is the main arterial for the west side of Modesto.
At the west end of the project, route 132 traffic will make a 90 degree turn south onto Dakota at Kansas Avenue and a second 90 degree turn west at Maze Boulevard. The intersections will probably add two signals.
Added traffic signals will probably offset most of the travel time saving the freeway is supposed to provide.
Extreme traffic congestion may occur at the Franklin/Needham signal as the intersection will also have to handle eastbound Kansas Avenue traffic. Caltrans is worried that the signal at the westbound 132 exit off northbound 99 freeway may back up traffic onto the freeway during peak periods. Traffic signals at the west end of the project will cause additional congestion at intersections that did not previously need traffic control.
The limited access at Carpenter Road will cause confusion for out of area travelers and inconvenience local residents.
The route 132 west freeway will feed many more cars and trucks into the transportation corridor from freeway 99 and downtown Modesto. The heaviest impacts will be on the section of two lane route 132 between Gates Road and Interstate 5.
Traffic from multiple sources will enter the route 132 roadway in order to cross the river. The lack of alternate routes across the river will multiply the number and duration of slow traffic periods in that area. The increase in traffic could lead to more accidents. The area of greatest congestion will include a corridor frequented by wildlife using the adjacent San Joaquin River National Wildlife Refuge.
Supporters of the project will be sorely disappointed when they discover that the transit time for users of the 132 corridor will actually increase after the first phase is built.
A Caltrans engineering consultant who did not wish to be quoted said that the configuration of the project is intended to cause congestion so that it will be easier to secure additional state and federal funding to do the second and third phases. This is just the way the agency does business.
Lawsuits to Follow?
Caltrans has set the project up for a number of lawsuits because citizens are angry that key officials have declined to timely disclose decisions or to include citizen input in the decision- making process.
In the view of citizens who live near the project, the environmental problem of the toxic waste berms is not being adequately addressed. Given Caltrans’ history of negligent maintenance of the existing berm site, including the destruction of seven homes by a brush fire, the cement cap seems like an empty gesture. Citizens believe that it won’t be maintained and will crack and crumble into worthless protection.
The configuration of the project will cause more congestion. The environmental impact report will need to show that the project will not add to pollution or it will be challenged.
Decisions have been made without adequate public input. Wood Colony has been excluded from the conversations, without a single public meeting in that area. Meetings have been held on short notice, often excluding interested stakeholders. Whatever input has been made by the public has been largely ignored. All of the major decisions were made before the first public meeting was ever held.
The project will adversely impact the wildlife refuge near the river, which includes important nesting sites.
Any of these issues could pop up in court and cause project delays.
Unnecessary Project Delays
Public officials often wonder why citizens don’t trust their government. The way this project has been ramrodded thus far is a classic case study. When large numbers of people are affected by a public works project, more outreach is needed than just a couple of public information meetings. Final decisions need to be made AFTER public input, not before.
Certainly, not everyone can be pleased. Nonetheless, business can be conducted in a manner that does not create animosity and distrust. In the haste to get the project done quickly, problems are being created that will delay the project. After all the years Cal Trans has been in business, one would expect the agency to have been better prepared to engage the public.