An environmental impact report by the California Department of Transportation for a proposed freeway interchange on Interstate 5 could signal substantial growth toward Lodi from North Stockton and has city planners concerned because they say it appears to be grossly incomplete.
The council will receive a report tonight regarding an Environmental Impact Report for an interchange that would be located west of Lodi near Eight Mile Road.
The proposed project is part of a plan to widen I-5 from Stockton to the southern limits of Lodi's White Slough Water Pollution Control Facility.
According to the Caltrans report, widening the highway will reduce traffic on the interstate, improve regional mobility and provide a more balanced circulation of traffic.
For Lodi, it means their neighbor to the south could develop agricultural land and be right in the city's backyard in a the following years. The I-5 work could be completed by 2015.
The freeway and interchange improvements will extend from south of Charter Way and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard to 1.8 miles north of Eight Mile Road. "The project is needed because northwest Stockton has been and is expected to continue experiencing substantial traffic growth," the Caltrans report said.
The topic of contention is the section referred to as North Gateway Boulevard. The interchange would be nearly two miles north of Eight Mile Road, considered a border between Lodi and Stockton.
The proposed expansion is within Stockton's city limits, but very close to the White Slough Wastewater Treatment Facility.
In the 253-page Caltrans report, there is no mention of the White Slough Wastewater Treatment Facility. The Lodi Energy Center, a 280-megawatt natural gas power plant planned to be built next to White Slough, is absent from the Caltrans report as well.
Rad Bartlam, director of community development, is concerned that areas and issues pertaining to Lodi are glossed over in the report.
"The issue areas of the document are not complete and need to be addressed," Bartlam said.
According to Caltrans public information officer Bob Boswell, the areas are not addressed in the Caltrans EIR because it is outside the project's limits and boundaries.
City of Stockton officials were unavailable for comment.
One of Bartlam's biggest concerns is that Measure K funds, which are derived from county sales tax revenue, could be used to subsidize private development. The half-cent sales tax for the benefit of transportation projects was passed in 1990. Bartlam said the expansion of the freeway and the growth of Stockton would go hand in hand.
Stockton's recently-approved general plan accounts for massive growth and development in the coming years. The area north of Eight Mile Road and east of Thorton Road is listed as an area of interest in Stockton's 2035 General Plan.
"It would be difficult to develop that magnitude without dealing with transportation," he said.
If residential developments were created near the wastewater treatment facility, it could pose a problem for Lodi.
"The concern is that there might be pressure on Lodi to pay to eliminate odors," said city spokesman Jeff Hood.
He said it would be in the best interest of Lodi to have developers pay those costs if they build homes near the facility.
The project would take 58 acres of agricultural land in the Stockton sphere of influence and convert them to highway uses.
"The amount of agricultural land to be converted by the project is negligible compared to the total amount of farmland in San Joaquin County or in California," according to the Caltrans report.
Bartlam said while the acreage is not substantial when taken as part of the larger picture, there is still significant loss under the California Environmental Quality Act.
He said mitigation is one avenue that could be taken, in which Lodi is reimbursed the acres lost to freeway development. However, no avenue for mitigation was included in the Caltrans report.
"The way the document is drafted, there is no provision for mitigation," he said. "That's our point."
The staff is also troubled that a Farmland Conversion Impact Rating form is not included in the Caltrans report.
The council will also review the estimated costs of the project. The five-phase project is scheduled to be finished by 2015 at a cost of $589 million.
Stockton's progressive expansion northward is a sticking point for many in Lodi. For more than a decade, a greenbelt has been discussed to buffer Lodi from Stockton. Earlier this year, the effort was scaled back by the city and the process for proceeding was left in the hands of local landowners.