Community Columns

Phase 1 of Highway 132 project won’t move needle to alleviate traffic

Construction of the first phase of a project that will connect Highway 99 and Interstate 580 via a newly aligned Route 132 will start in November.

The initial phase will be an expressway between 99 and Dakota Avenue.

Currently on Highway 132, between 4 a.m. and 8 a.m. and 3 p.m. and 6 p.m., daily commuters to and from the Bay Area jam the roadway, slowing traffic to a crawl for much of its length.

Commuters are expecting congestion relief with the new project. Expect none.

The first phase only will be an expressway with traffic signals or traffic circles at either end. All construction will be east of Hart Road, no help to sections of Route 132 with the worst congestion. The expressway will be upgraded to freeway in a future phase.

A Caltrans engineer told me years ago the phase design is intended to increase congestion so funding for the second and subsequent phases will be easier to secure.

The State of California bases funding priorities on the severity of congestion. To get Phase 2 funding, motorists have to suffer in stopped traffic, wasting gasoline that costs over $4 per gallon. As motorists waste gas, the state’s revenue from the gas tax will pay for the project.

The least expensive way to build the 132 Freeway from Modesto to Interstate 580 is to do the entire project all at once. Economies of scale, one set of administrative costs, and one construction contract would get the job done within five years.

By building the 132 Freeway in four separate phases, Caltrans will employ the most expensive means of construction. Each phase will have separate administrative costs, typically amounting to 20 to 25 percent of total construction costs. Each phase will have different start up and finishing costs, including costs to reroute traffic.

Different contractors may do each phase, resulting in numerous inefficiencies. The worst part of the four phase plan will be 20 years of construction with unrelenting traffic congestion. One need not be an expert to realize the entire project is a boondoggle.

Caltrans now has $5 billion per year in extra tax revenue to do construction projects. The agency has the money to do all regional projects using the most efficient economies of scale. But, it has always been a wasteful agency and will continue to be that way as long as the State Legislature and Governor provide little oversight.

Taxpayers should not need to drive in conditions of perpetual congestion.

After the first phase is completed in 2023, the expressway will have traffic signals and traffic circles that will add to congestion at key connector locations.

Wherever cross traffic exists, 132 traffic will be impacted.

The key intersections will be Maze Blvd at Dakota Road, Kansas Avenue at Dakota Road, and a big mess at the intersection of Route 132/northbound Freeway 99 off-ramp/Franklin-Kansas Avenue/Needham Avenue, where four different arterials will intersect at one traffic signal.

Carpenter Road is the main arterial for the west side of Modesto. Westbound 132 will have an overpass of Carpenter Road, but no exit ramp! The west side of town gets the burden of a freeway through it without receiving the full benefit.

All governments in Stanislaus County are committed to unlimited population growth. No city has ultimate urban limit lines or permanent urban boundaries.

Twenty years from now, when construction is finally completed, the four lane 132 Freeway will be as congested as the two lane country road is now.

Interstate 205 and 120 Freeway are examples of what Route 132 will look like for future commuters to the Bay Area.

Bruce Frohman served on the Modesto City Council from 1999-2003, served on the Stanislaus Council of Governments studying transportation projects while a Council Member, and served on a citizens committee that provided input to Caltrans about the 132 Freeway project plans in 2012. He wrote this article for the Modesto Bee.

This story was originally published October 14, 2019 5:00 AM.

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