San Joaquin Valley Highway 99: A Road to the Future or the Past?

Share |
(Modesto, CA)
Friday, September 9, 2005

LeRoy Cardoza has lived on a forty-acre farm next to state Highway 99 just south of Stockton most of his 67 years.

This is what I grew up in, this house right here. This is half the foundation, the outer half, the inner half was out there on the frontage road.

Looking trim and tanned, Cardoza stands in the middle of the foundation of the small farmhouse his family lived in until the mid-1940’s, when the path of 99 was altered slightly.

It’s just a two bedroom, small house. In fact five of us kids grew up in it. Four sisters and me with one bathroom and two bedrooms.

The Cardoza’s home had to be razed to accommodate the highway, so the state built the family a larger one nearby.  LeRoy’s Cardoza’s mother Vivian has lived there ever since, watching the traffic flow morph from a trickle of mostly local cars and farm trucks to a torrent of fast moving S-U-V’s and tractor-trailers.

I would say this last couple of years that it’s really been getting bad, because they have all these housing projects. They have all these houses over here and houses over there. So, there’s more people.

Sixty years later, there’s talk of brining big change to 99. The state is working to gain federal interstate designation for the highway. It’s an action that would lead to a widening of the road from four to six lanes, and it might once again force the Cardozas out of their home. Vivian Cardoza doesn’t like the idea.

I think it’s wide enough. I think it’s ok the way it is.

LeRoy Cardoza lives next door to his mother and still runs the family farm. But he has a different opinion. He wouldn’t mind if the government or a developer wanted their property, as long as he and his mother were compensated.

If it’s right and equitable money wise, then maybe I would have to. I might have to relocate.

Backers of  the interstate proposal say such a designation would be important to the economic future of the region and possibly help pay for road improvements. The non-partisan Great Valley Center formed a Highway 99 task force. Agency President Carol Whiteside says one of its goals is to attain interstate designation for the roadway.

The issue is bringing the services of an interstate a full service highway to urban areas which generate a good deal of traffic and a good deal of business and commerce. People expect major cities and major places in the country, major urban areas to have interstate access.

But Whiteside cautions there’s no hard evidence that incorporating Highway 99 into the federal system would guarantee the economic bonanza that some advocates claim it would be.

We did a study last year with Collaborative Economics and they looked everywhere to find out what the impact of improving the highway is. And they couldn’t find any hard data. There’s a lot of anecdotal evidence, but nothing we can document.

Others Central Valley leaders say making 99 an interstate would be a waste of money. State Senator Dean Florez, a Democrat from the Central Valley, says because Interstate Five already cuts through the Central Valley, he doesn’t think spending billions to try and the get the federal designation for ninety-nine is a wise use of transportation dollars.

Look at I-5 though the Central Valley. It is an Interstate. It doesn’t get enough money. There’s still problems with it. So I think that making 99 an interstate ultimately at this point in time doesn’t show me any sort of promise that ultimately that the travel time, the bottlenecks would be eliminated in any significant way.

Florez favors using available money to widen the entire ninety-nine corridor to six lanes as quickly as possible, and not spend state funds on projects such as increasing the height of overpasses to meet federal standards.

There’s no question that converting the nearly 100 year old road to an interstate between Sacramento and Bakersfield would be expensive. The state calculates it would take about six billion dollars just to eliminate cross over traffic on the north/south roadway. Transportation Secretary Sunne Wright McPeak told those attending a Highway 99 task force meeting in Modesto this summer that much more state money would be needed to meet federal requirements for medians, shoulders and bridges.

If we were to comply with all those Interstate standards it could be another eleven to fourteen billion.

While the state pursues an Interstate designation for ninety-nine, the Cardozas watch the traffic zoom by. LeRoy wonders if they’ll have to move again.

You can’t stop progress. I mean it’s going to have to happen. It should have happen a long time ago probably. 

Caltrans says eventually the highway that passes the Cardoza property will be widened to six lanes regardless of whether or not it’s part of the interstate system. But the progress that Cardoza says is overdue isn’t likely to occur anytime soon.