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Corridor Meet Opponents Voice Choice
"Kiernan and Claribel, make them work" was the repeated plea from residents when officials conducted Thursday's public hearing in Riverbank on a plan to relocate State Route 108 to an east-west bypass further to the south.

Many of the several hundred area residents gathered at Riverbank Community Center spoke against the adoption of the North County Corridor East on grounds ranging from destruction of prime agricultural land and lowering of their property values to breaking up long established communities and a failure to prove it would do much to improve traffic flow.

A majority of the speakers argued authorities should concentrate on improving the existing Kiernan and Claribel roads to connect Highway 99 to a point on Highway 120 several miles east of Oakdale rather than embark on building a completely new road.

A sign to that effect appeared beside McHenry Avenue north of Modesto the next day.

Plans to widen Kiernan and Claribel into a four- to six-lane expressway have been discussed for a decade or more and Kiernan already is under improvement, said one speaker, although an official noted both routes will be needed to handle traffic congestion within 20 years.

The California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) and the North County Corridor Transportation Expressway Authority (NCCTEA) are hosting public hearings on a proposal to adopt a corridor as the first step and is inviting comments on a draft environmental impact report.

By way of introduction, Christine Cox of the Caltrans Central Region office explained officials had determined plans for the now abandoned Oakdale bypass looping around the north of Oakdale from Highway 120 to Highway 108 would not serve the area's needs as well as this proposal running to the south of Riverbank and Oakdale.

Steve Burk from the public then took the stand to note plans for the $1.2 billion North County Corridor were conceived before the current economic collapse, much of the funding has now disappeared, the figures and assumptions based on them are flawed and at least one of the involved studies was done by land developers several years ago.

Publicity about the North County Corridor has sent their property values plummeting and made their land impossible to sell, said several speakers. How long do authorities intend to keep landowners in limbo and uncertain of where the chosen route will run and how can they justify this, they asked.

"We are being held hostage. How do you intend to mitigate the damage to people," asked Richard Meissner.

Cox said Caltrans regrets the uncertainty but must seek the residents' opinion and is pressing ahead as fast as possible with selection of a more defined route although land acquisition and construction may not come for another 10 years. This is a planning document to guide local authorities, she added.

"We live on some of the richest farmland in the world. There needs to be a very good reason for converting or fragmenting it because it cannot be undone," said another speaker. "Why can't we push this bypass into the urban transition zone south of Kiernan and Claribel?"

Cox assured the speaker that the route would stick as far as possible to the urban transition zone.

Bill Bowden, vice president of a long established business on Kiernan Road, said he had seen the traffic increase over the 20 years he had worked there but doubted it would increase by the predicted 500 percent within the next 20 years.

Verging on tears, Barbara Danewood said she and her husband had lived and farmed on McHenry Avenue for over 60 years, knew all the farmers there and were strongly opposed to a bypass disrupting their livelihood and family history.

Chuck Burdick, owner of a mobile home park on Claribel Road, said his residents were scared. Their homes were too old to sell. Were they supposed to live on the street? How could he ensure their homes were not taken?

Cox commented legislation on route adoption offers a higher level of protection to low income residents. She offered to personally visit the park and talk to the residents.

The expressway authority is discussing only the eastern end of the proposed corridor (eastward from McHenry Avenue which is Highway 108). It has no jurisdiction over the western part of the link that it is anticipated will be developed later by local authorities.

There are also two alternative routes proposed for the eastern segment. One approximately follows the Claribel Road alignment as far as Crow Road before slanting northeastward to join Highway 120. The other turns north between Claus and Langworth and then east along Patterson Road.

Written comments on the draft EIR are due by Nov. 6 at 5 p.m. by e-mail or U.S. mail to Gail Miller, Caltrans 2015 East Shields Ave., Suite 100, Fresno, CA 93726 or to For more information, call Miller at 559-243-8274 or Christina Hibbard, Project Manager, Caltrans at 209-948-7889.