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Plan underway to address transportation needs
Hatch traffic
Valley Vision Stanislaus will be setting forth a plan to address transportation needs and investments of the county and its nine cities over the next 25 years. This is a view of Hatch Road morning traffic in Ceres. - photo by JEFF BENZIGER/ Courier file photo

The future of transportation in Ceres and Stanislaus County was the subject of a special presentation made last week at the Ceres City Council meeting.

Kendall Flint, part of the consulting team working with the Stanislaus Council of Governments (StanCOG) as it updates its Regional Transportation Plan/Sustainable Communities Strategy, spoke to the council Sept. 11.

Flint noted that people move around Stanislaus County in different ways and noted that the Altamont Corridor Express (ACE) train will be extended to the region with funding through the state's massive gasoline tax hike.

"We've got a growing population that's using services to connect them to services for medical and other types of appointments," said Flint.

Valley Vision Stanislaus setting forth a plan to address transportation needs and investments of the county and its nine cities over the next 25 years. The Regional Transportation Plan is required by the federal government every four years. The plan should reflect the vision of all of the cities and county and attempts to link transportation investments to land uses. Flint said the RTP must provide a prioritized list of projects, from roadway improvements to additional transit services.

"It has to be fiscally constrained," said Flint, "which means all the projects and programs in the plan has to be fully funded. What's really great is that this time around - as opposed to four years ago - we've passed Measure L and the state with the SB1, we actually have some money to do some implementation. We have several billion dollars more coming to this area than was four years, so that has a dramatic effect on the number and the types of projects that we're looking to plan."

The plan also must meet greenhouse gas emission reduction standards set by the state and the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

"We're making sure we're creating opportunities for people to get out of their vehicles and walk or bike wherever it is, to be healthier and also look at social equity - to make sure that as we make investments, that they are fair to all folks within the county regardless of socioeconomic status."

Flint pointed out that the regional plan does not supercede the local land use authority of each city. But she said StanCOG is working with local officials to see how each city is planning growth to accommodate transportation needs.

StanCOG is not dictating how each city will spend its share of new road tax monies coming in from passage of Measure L. But the list of road projects each city outlined before Measure L was passed will be a part of the Regional Transportation Plan.

StanCOG is currently doing a lot of community outreach to get information out to the public, speaking to service clubs, churches, schools, senior centers and farmers markets.

Next month StanCOG will be coming back to the county and nine cities to present four scenarios presented as "investment packages." One theme might be more emphasis on rail and trains, or another for additional roadway improvements. Each council will weigh in on the scenarios with the final choice moving forward through the environmental review process, likely to end in June 2018 with final adoption in late 2018.

The plan will include delivering transportation options to those without cars and ensuring services aren't denied to people on the basis of race, gender or income. The plan also directs that investments be made in a way that will help spur economic vitality. Flint said the plan will examine how transportation investments will impact agriculture and open space. It will also look at environmental quality and how investments impact water and air quality, blight and noise.

The last time such a plan was developed, StanCOG selected one that focused more on in-fill development. Flint said the area was able to meet its greenhouse emission reduction targets, which have ratcheted up.

Workshops will be set up in October to present the four scenarios and allow the public to comment on them. The first one in Ceres is set for 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 26 at the Ceres Community Center. The public can also provide input through an on-line survey, or and obtain information on the process.

The Regional Transportation Plan does not affect the projects which Ceres has already committed to as its strategy to use Measure L funds.

Passage of the tax makes Stanislaus County a "self help" county and allows for the receipt of more state and federal highway monies.

Measure L is expected to generate an estimated $38 million per year to be shared in the county, or $960 million over the 25-year life. Half of the funds would go to cities and the county to spend on a list of road repairs. In the case of Ceres, $30.5 million would be available for local street and road repairs. It includes repairs for 135 separate roadway projects in the first five years. A list of exact streets to be fixed is detailed on the website, under the local investments tab.

The 25-year countywide half-cent sales tax is expected to generate $480.2 million for local streets and roads, $48 million for bike and pedestrian paths, $96 million for traffic management, $269 million for regional projects and $67.2 million for transit services.

The Stanislaus Council of Governments (StanCOG) has outlined the following overall formula for the spending of the tax monies:

• 50 percent on street repairs;

• 28 percent on regional construction projects;

• 10 percent on traffic management, such as traffic signalization to improving local intersections to reduce vehicle wait time;

• 7 percent for point-to-point services, better transit connections between unincorporated areas and services in Modesto, transit and some money for van connections to the Altamont Corridor Express train station;

• 5 percent spent on pedestrian and bike path programs.

Ceres city officials are happy that the tax would steer $30.74 million for the Mitchell/Service/Highway 99 interchange and $17 million toward the county's $71.7 million Faith Home-Garner expressway connection which would ultimately divert truck traffic away from Mitchell Road.