Caltrans’ June newsletter probably did more harm than good from a public relations standpoint. The newsletter was intended to update stakeholders about the project’s progress. Instead, a front page article in the Modesto Bee claimed the newsletter was misleading. Even worse, the information in the newsletter aggravated critics of the project who believe their comments and suggestions will be totally ignored.
The newsletter announced that construction will begin in 2016, with completion in 2018. Also, according to the newsletter, the toxic waste mounds (barium) will be “encapsulated” in concrete. The mounds will not be removed.
Carpenter Road, the major arterial for access to the west side of town, will have only a partial interchange, allowing access in the west bound direction and egress in the east bound direction. This means that west side traffic will be unable to enter the freeway to go east bound or exit the freeway at Carpenter Road when travelling west. Not stated in the newsletter: The lack of freeway access would become a major impediment to economic development in parts of the west side.
The newsletter also says that the freeway will end at Dakota Road and that westbound traffic will be routed southbound on Dakota back to the present Maze Road alignment.
The information in the newsletter coincides exactly with the original proposal submitted to the community over two years ago, before any comments were taken by Caltrans. Citizens who have been participating in the meetings with Caltrans were caught totally by surprise. The immediate conclusion was that Caltrans intends to proceed with its original plans regardless of community input. The authoritative newsletter left no doubt that plans had been finalized.
In Garth Stapley’s Modesto Bee article, an official was quoted as saying that Caltrans did not adequately proof read the newsletter before it was released. One has to wonder how such an authoritative newsletter could confuse Caltrans officials as to its intent and meaning.
Project Manager Debra Haack said people weren’t supposed to find out about the decision until January. In May, this reporter was told by a local official that decisions would be announced in September at a Stanislaus Council of Governments meeting. Shouldn’t the public be informed immediately when a decision is made?
Toxic Waste Credibility Gap
Caltrans has steadfastly maintained that the toxic waste piles in the 132 freeway right of way are safe, containing only low levels of contaminants. If this is true, then the cost of removal of the dirt should be minimal, far less than the cost of encapsulation. The proper equipment can move large amounts of dirt at a relatively low cost. Caltrans’ assertion that moving the dirt would be very expensive would be true only if the soil were highly contaminated.
Below Grade Freeway A Better Option?
To minimize the noise disruption the proposed 132 freeway would have on the west side, this writer has suggested that the freeway be constructed below grade within the city limits. This would put the grade level of the freeway near that of the 99 Freeway. If the toxic dirt mounds were removed, then the extra cost for below grade construction would be justifiable. An excellent argument can also be made that an elevated freeway would make the community look less attractive by creating a physical barrier between two sections of town.
Citizens on the west side of Modesto don’t really know what to expect. Caltrans should publish a revised newsletter to tell the truth about what is going on. The longer the agency delays, the lower its credibility and the less likely it will receive full cooperation from the community. Caltrans has extensive experience in doing construction projects. The taxpayer can only feel disappointed by the lack of accurate communication and even less confident about receiving a project that will benefit the community.
West Modesto’s King-Kennedy Memorial Center on Monday nearly burst at the seams with people, many of them passionately opposed to a future freeway that they fear could endanger their quiet homes, their health and their property values.
The restive crowd endured a slide-show update on the proposed Highway 132 bypass, with dozens standing because all seats were taken. Some had trouble hearing because there was no microphone.
Transportation officials then refused to answer questions from the audience, sparking pleas and angry shouts from many corners of the packed room.
“Listen to the voice of the people!” yelled one man as frustration mounted.
“We need to be heard!” said another.
Stanislaus County Supervisor Terry Withrow made his way to the front of the room and persuaded experts from the California Transportation Commission and Stanislaus Council of Governments to join him in answering questions for the next hour.
But it was a rocky period, and some in the audience verbally attacked him along with the others.
At one point, Modesto Councilwoman Jenny Kenoyer – who previously lived for 19 years in a west side neighborhood – was shouted down as she tried to restore order. She scolded the crowd, saying, “What you’re doing is a mob mentality.”
Some said they learned only recently that their property could be seized for the four-lane expressway, meant to provide a smoother flow from Highway 99 toward the Bay Area.
Others are concerned about barium contamination in soil scooped from the former FMC plant nearby and piled in three hills for a future raised freeway segment.
“Are you absorbing the consensus of this group? This is outcry,” said Robert Quintero, capturing the mood of much of the crowd.
Withrow said just as many would protest if a freeway were proposed elsewhere, but the crowd didn’t want to hear it. Applause was loud when someone asked why officials don’t consider widening Maze Boulevard, which doubles as Highway 132.
“They’re afraid of Gallo, that’s why!” a man shouted.
Officials have not formally dropped the larger Maze idea, but don’t favor it because it would mean sacrificing dozens of homes and businesses, while the preferred path just south of Kansas Avenue was chosen nearly 60 years ago and most of the land was acquired back then.
Caltrans’ Sam Haack said more than 700 soil samples led scientists to conclude that barium does not pose a health risk. Her agency wants to cap the berms in concrete and build the freeway on top, theoretically preventing rain from carrying the dangerous heavy metal as it seeps down to groundwater.
Many would prefer trucking away the soil and replacing it with safe earth, but officials have said that could cost millions of dollars.
Last week, officials said Caltrans would release its plan in January for dealing with the dirt. Monday, Stanislaus Council of Governments Executive Director Carlos Yamzon said it would be spring.
People then can comment, and the state Department of Toxic Substances Control will decide.
Terhesa Gamboa said it’s unbelievable that representatives of that agency, although invited, declined to attend Monday’s open house.
Construction is expected to begin in 2016 and finish in 2018, with a final phase to follow a decade later, said Tom Post of Jacobs Engineering.
The Council of Governments’ policy board is scheduled to hear a Highway 132 update at 6 p.m. Wednesday in the third-floor chamber at 1111 11th St., Modesto.
Read more here: http://www.modbee.com/2014/08/18/3493380_west-modesto-crowd-voices-anger.html?rh=1#storylink=cpy
Excavating, loading, transporting and depositing the soil from the stockpiles at a landfill and then importing clean fill is estimated at $21.5 million. The original scope of the State Route 132 West Freeway/Expressway project was to construct the road on these stockpiles and thus the removal estimate is not included in the total project cost.
For additional information, the feasibility study is located at http://www.dot.ca.gov/dist10/environmental/projects/sr132west/docs/S9800-01-17%20Modesto%20Soil%20Stockpiles%20Final%20FS%20Report.0614.pdf
Please feel free to contact me if you have additional questions.
Chief of Public & Legislative Affairs
and Executive Services
Department of Transportation, District 10
Fax: (209) 948-3895