If You Don't Build It, They Can't Come
There’s a number that I just can’t get out of my head. $22 million. You see, that’s the amount of federal transportation funds that Richard Pombo earmarked for his two pet projects, brand-spanking-new freeways that connect Tracy to Brentwood in the north and to San Jose in the south. Coincidentally, Pombo and his family own agricultural land along both proposed routes that has significantly increased in value because of its potential to turn into valuable commercial freeway frontage. Now, of course, the $22 million only covers the costs of “feasibility studies”; the actual price tag for constructing these freeways would be well over $1 billion, which is why many in the area refer to them as “Pombo’s Folly.”
In the meantime, there’s Manteca. If you look at a map, you’ll see that Manteca is a natural hub, with its prime location immediately east of the Interstate 5/205/580 confluence. Interstate 5 runs north/south along the western edge of town; Highway 99 runs north/south on the eastern edge of town; Highway 120 runs directly through town on an east/west axis.
Not unsurprisingly, Manteca has experienced the same exponential growth as many other of the San Joaquin Valley cities in CD-11. Like those other cities, Manteca struggles with the fact that there are nowhere near enough local jobs to employ its residents. The upshots of that reality are high unemployment and a killer commute across the Altamont Pass. Now, clearly the widening of I-205 will ease the congestion somewhat, but it is only a palliative, not a long-term solution to the problem. The answer is creating jobs in the San Joaquin Valley.
And that’s exactly what the locals in Manteca are trying to do. Plans are on the boards for a host of business parks. Most of these centers will capitalize on Manteca’s location by focusing on the transport of goods: they will be light industrial facilities, warehouses, and distribution centers. But also underway is a development that is modeled after the Hacienda Business Park in Pleasanton. The Tara Business Park project would cover 485 acres with a facility that would ultimately provide an estimated 10,000 to 15,000 white collar jobs in Manteca. The adjacent Austin Road Business Park would provide distribution and light industrial operations. If you look at this map, you will see a crazy starburst shape that represents the outer parameters of a 15-minute drive time to these proposed employment centers; you’ll notice that residents of Stockton, Ripon, Tracy, Escalon and (obviously) Manteca are all located within its confines, as well as Lathrop and Modesto from outside CD-11.
Sounds terrific, doesn’t it? So what’s the problem? Freeway interchanges. You see, the facilities to house the businesses can’t be built until there’s a way to get to them. And what’s preventing Manteca from getting its interchanges? No money to pay for them.
Now, here’s where the story gets a little weird. I’ve been following this issue in the Manteca Bulletin, a newspaper that has a serious crush on Congressman Richard Pombo. They’re still gushing over the fact that six years ago, Pombo obtained $6 million of the $13 million required to improve one interchange; and in the most recent $286 billion transportation bill, Pombo (who sits on the powerful House Transportation Committee) earmarked $4 million for the new interchange that would serve the Tara Business Park and Austin Road Business Park. Apparently, Pombo’s largess in providing this funding took the locals in Manteca by surprise. “Manteca leaders never officially requested the money for the project. They believed Pombo’s stance against pork barrel projects was all inclusive.”
But $4 million is just a fraction of the overall cost of building the new interchange. The total cost? $22 million. According to the Manteca Bulletin, “The city has yet to determine how to finance the $22 million construction tab.”
Gee, I know somebody who could have provided them with $22 million. Too bad for them he doesn’t own land in Manteca.