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So close, yet so far

Some must walk or bike miles from Acampo to Lodi, and wonder if a pedestrian-foot bridge could be the solution

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Posted: Saturday, April 2, 2011 12:00 am | Updated: 9:45 am, Sat Apr 2, 2011.

You live near Highway 99 on the north side of the Mokelumne River, but you don't have a car. That means you can't cross the river over the Highway 99 bridge, which is just a stone's throw away. Instead, you must walk or bike 2.5 miles west to Lower Sacramento Road and south through Woodbridge.

Some residents would like to explore a pedestrian foot-bridge over the Mokelumne to allow direct access into the city.

Nancy Arruda, for one, has lived in her RV for seven years. She says she can't work because she had a mild stroke a couple of years ago and has a lung disease.

Arruda's sister, who lives in Lodi, will sometimes come and pick her up and drive her to Lodi after the sister gets off work. Otherwise, she walks on the side of Highway 99 from the frontage road to the Turner Road exit to buy groceries and run errands. It is a trek both perilous and illegal.

"I used to cross the bridge every day to go to work," said Arruda, who worked for Animal Friends Connection until she was laid off due to lack of funds about four years ago.

"We understand it isn't safe to cross, but can you tell me how we are to get to Lodi without doing the backstroke in the river?" Arruda wrote in a letter recently published on the News-Sentinel's Opinion page. "We need to buy our food and other things in Lodi, but if we can't cross over, how do we get there with no car?"

The problem is that the California Department of Transportation and the San Joaquin Council of Governments don't have the money to add pedestrian/bicycle lanes where Highway 99 crosses the river.

"It would be very expensive to expand the bridge," said Councilman Larry Hansen, who represents Lodi on the Council of Governments. "There are a lot of very good projects (throughout the county) that we don't have funding for."

For Acampo residents to reach Lodi without a car, they would have to walk or bicycle 2.5 miles west to Lower Sacramento Road and go through Woodbridge, or they could go about 3.5 miles east to Bruella Road and south through the town of Victor.

One Mokelumne RV Park resident, Matt Gregory, 16, said that he and a friend got a $125 citation from the California Highway Patrol in October when an officer saw them bicycling home on the bridge after they visited Gregory's stepfather at his shop on the Lodi side of the river.

Gregory, a Lodi High sophomore, said he used to bicycle frequently on Highway 99 to the Turner Road exit to visit friends and see a movie, but his $125 traffic ticket changed his mind.

"The reason it is illegal is that it is very unsafe, both for pedestrians and for the motorists," CHP spokesman Angel Arceo said.

At Arbor Mobile Home Park on the east Highway 99 frontage road off Woodbridge Road, most residents have cars, maintenance worker Steve Anderson said. One resident takes Dial-a-Ride, while another has a good friend who takes her to Lodi, Anderson said.

What's keeping pedestrian and bicyclists from crossing the river legally without going all the way to Lower Sacramento Road is that private property surrounds Highway 99.

In Sacramento County, authorities decided decades ago to not allow residential or commercial development on either side of the American River so that the river can remain pristine park land.

Bicycle lanes were added to bridges at Watt Avenue and Sunrise Boulevard in recent years, but they were done in conjunction with the bridges being widened from four to six lanes.

A historic bridge just east of Sunrise Boulevard links the American River Parkway on the south side to Fair Oaks Village. People can walk or ride their bicycles across the 1901 bridge and then return to Sunrise.

This year, Sacramento County is widening Hazel Avenue from four to six lanes from the Highway 50 exit north across the American River, and bicycle lanes are being added at the same time, according to Daniel Regan, a spokesman for the Sacramento County Department of Transportation.

The $42 million Hazel Avenue project includes several components besides bike lanes. Funding came from a combination of developer fees, state and federal funding, and Measure A sales tax, which is similar to the Measure K transportation tax in San Joaquin County. Regan said he doesn't know how much the bike lane component costs.

But in San Joaquin County, there are no plans to widen Highway 99 to six lanes, so there is no bicycle plan to go with it.

Contact reporter Ross Farrow at rossf@lodinews.com.

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