Regional Transportation Plan unveiled

An open house forum gave residents a look at the draft regional transportation plan being updated by the Merced County Association of Governments.

The plan, the region’s primary long-range planning document, will determine what improvements and which projects receive funding priority through 2040. The plan is based on growth patterns in the county, state goals and community input.

“We had a couple public hearings and this is what came out of them,” Matt Fell, MCAG’s transportation manager, said at Tuesday’s two-hour open house in the Los Banos Community Center. “June is the soonest it can be adopted.”

The plan consists of the most popular scenario of several presented to the public last year. At that time, Fell asked Merced County residents to choose among projects like road maintenance and construction, expanding bus service and increasing bike and walking paths. He also asked about preferences for cleaner air, less traffic congestion, having less farmland development and encouraging less driving.

The update will help MCAG comply with new state-mandated legislation to reduce greenhouse gases, and includes a plan to accommodate the region’s future housing needs.

Major projects - some have funding, others do not – such as the Los Banos Bypass, Merced-Atwater Expressway and a widening of a portion of Highway 99 are included in the plan. MCAG’s board of directors, which includes representatives from the six cities in the county and the Board of Supervisors, will decide the fate of the plan.

Joe Cox said he wanted to make sure public transportation for senior citizens was included in the plan.

“We need bus and transportation services for seniors, especially handicapped seniors,” Cox said. “The Westside gets the short end of the stick a lot of times.”

Cox said he wants to see fairness in the plan. Cox said the Highway 152 bypass, which is planned north of town, from Santa Fe Grade to the west of Volta Road, once was planned south of Los Banos. Cox said he wants to know what MCAG’s plan is for the land south of Highway 152.

The regional transportation plan draft does not include any projects south of Highway 152.

Councilman Tom Fairia said the county plan has not been reviewed in two decades, before the county was home to a university.

“I think we need to re-examine the whole picture now that UC Merced is there,” Faria said. “UC Merced gives that region a great deal of leverage. UC Merced is going to grow, not only in numbers of students but in the magnetic pull of businesses and houses.”

Faria said he wants to make sure the bypass is built as a four-lane highway. He said he knows of two-lane thoroughfares that have an abundance of accidents.

Frank Stambach and his wife, Gerry, said they were concerned that more people didn’t attend the open house. The couple has been at several workshops featuring the regional plan and remains unimpressed.

“I don’t see there’s much of a plan here,” Frank Stambach said. “I don’t see anything new.”

Gerry Stambach said she wants the plan to address truck traffic on local highways. She said she is in favor of the bypass, but does not have a lot of faith that it will be built because officials have been promising it since the 1960s.