Getting onto southbound Highway 99 from Turner Road can be a harrowing experience.
Drivers must contend with quick left and right turns to get onto the on-ramp. They have to watch out for cars coming down the off-ramp and onto Cherokee Lane. It’s difficult to see the fast-moving traffic on the freeway, which is made more difficult by bridge supports. And there is a relatively short acceleration lane.
The on-ramp was the site of 18 collisions between July 2008 and June 2011. This was far and away the highest rate out of the 22 on- and off-ramps on the 3.5-mile stretch of Highway 99 that runs through Lodi.
“It is certainly a complex spot; this whole segment is tough,” said Juann Ramos of Dokken Engineering, who briefed Lodi City Council members on Tuesday morning about a feasibility study of improvement projects along Lodi’s section of Highway 99.
The feasibility study was commissioned by the San Joaquin Council of Governments, which is looking for short-term, low-cost projects that can solve some of Lodi’s traffic problems on one of the state’s major north-south arteries.
Donald Mascardo, the project director for SJCOG, said the umbrella organization for local governments is looking for feedback as to which projects in Lodi it should pursue. Mascardo said the long-term goal is to widen Highway 99 to six lanes through Lodi, but that project is not even on the horizon at this point.
The Turner Road project was one of three possible projects presented to the council; the three possibilities are the most viable projects that can be completed in less than five years at total costs of under $5 million each. The other two projects that meet the criteria are improving the northbound on-ramp at Kettleman Lane, and improving the northbound on-ramp at Victor Road.
Realigning the Cherokee Lane-Pioneer Drive intersection at the southbound Turner Road interchange is one of the cheapest options, has the shortest construction time estimates and offers the most benefits, according a comparison of proposed projects in the feasibility study. That project is estimated to have a total price tag of $1.25 million.
While most seemed to favor the idea of upgrading the Turner Road on-ramp, council members were stymied as to what kind of input they could give at this stage.
Councilman Larry Hansen said he didn’t want to waste money on a Band-Aid approach to projects that would be torn down as larger-scale projects come online in the future.
Ramos said all three of the projects detailed would remain in place if and when Highway 99 is widened in Lodi. He said it was his firm’s goal in putting together the feasibility study not to put forward temporary fixes.
Councilman Bob Johnson said he didn’t have the engineering expertise to give meaningful input, especially since the final decision on any projects will be made by the California Department of Transportation with direct input from SJCOG.
“I’m so happy to see something happening in town,” Johnson said. “I’m just not too sure what you’re asking us to do is reasonable. Which one do I prefer? I don’t think it’s going to be my choice when it ultimately comes down to decision-making.”
Mayor Alan Nakanishi said he wanted to see more data from SJCOG and Dokken Engineering before making a “gut-check” decision at a 7 a.m. informational meeting.
Mascardo said SJCOG is seeking input from city officials as it tries to position itself to get projects into the official pipeline and secure funding sources.
He said he has asked for a similar meeting with Caltrans in order to feel the state agency out as to what short-term projects SJCOG should pursue.
For any of the projects presented Tuesday to go forward, they must first make it onto Caltrans’ two-year State Highway Operation and Protection Program list. Caltrans will be completing its next two-year plan in Dec. 2014.
Mascardo said he will continue working with Lodi’s Public Works Department and seeking input from city officials as SJCOG tries to develop and get state approval for Highway 99 projects that benefit Lodi.