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Public split on SR 165 plans
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A small, but interested group of community members were on hand Thursday night at Turlock’s City Hall to hear the 15 different alternatives presently being considered to fix the traffic problems on State Route 165, also known as Lander Avenue, through Hilmar.
Thursday’s meeting was the second public forum held to gain community input on possible changes to SR 165.
“The steps from here are to identify the range of alternatives then have them evaluated by the consultants,” said Joseph Weiland, principal for Omni Means, an engineering/planning company based in Roseville.    
The goal of the public forums is to weed out the 15 alternatives to about two or three alternatives for the final selection, Weiland said.  
All 15 alternatives start south of the Merced River and go north, hitting Highway 99 on the south end of Turlock. None of the current 15 alternatives interrupt any parks and most of them have curves to help reduce vehicle speed.  
Alternatives range from using a bypass east of Hilmar connecting with the original SR 165 south and north of Hilmar; or creating a new highway all together that doesn’t connect with the original SR 165. The speed limit proposed for alternatives range from 55 mph to 65 mph; with all having a four-lane bypass, Weiland said.  
Alternatives A, B, and C are conventional highways with a bypass connection to SR 165 around Hilmar. Alternatives D through G are new routes off of SR 165.    
The design for all alternatives are projected for the year 2035, with expected growth, said Bob Morrison, vice president for Bender Rosenthal, Inc.
“If you’re investing hundreds of millions of dollars in an express way, you are looking at fixing problems 30 years from now,” Morrison said.  
Some concerns raised from community members included trucker use and failure to look to the west.
Merced County Supervisor Deidre Kelsey wondered what would make a trucker take the alternative route versus the original SR 165.
In response, Weiland said he hopes to make the alternative route look more attractive than the original SR 165 by creating a path of least resistance. It would be a new route with a faster speed, he said.
Merced County resident Richard Jantz suggested a new alternative that would eliminate the need to build an interchange to HWY 99. He suggested using the existing Bradbury Road that runs into HWY 99.
Turlock resident Tony Wells was curious as to why none of the alternatives presented go west of Hilmar. Forum organizers did not have an answer to Wells’ question.
The last suggestion of the night was provided by the secretary of the Delhi Municipal Advisory Council, Dennis Cote. He suggested mixing and matching alternatives to make them more effective.  
While selecting the top alternatives, the government agencies leading this project will take into consideration 11 evaluation criteria, with the top three issues being congestions and traffic operations, safety, and environmental impacts.
The City of Turlock, Stanislaus County, Merced County, the Stanislaus County Council of Governments, and the Merced Association of Governments are all working in tandem with CalTrans on the SR 165 plan.
Morrison expects the planning study to be completed in June of 2010, at which time various alternative plans will be put forth on paper. After a preferred plan is selected, based on selection criteria drafted through community input, an environmental impact report will be drafted by 2014.
Any physical change to SR 165 is still many years out, as the $1.4 million in federal funding is not expected to see the project all the way through the end of the EIR process, let alone construction. No funding source has been identified for any future SR 165 improvements.
“This is going to be a long time, and how you pay for all this is something you also need to think about,” Morrison said earlier this year. “We’re hoping that as things turn around economically for the state, the necessity of this project going forward will click.”
The next public forum to be held on the SR 165 changes — at which the top alternatives chosen from the previous two public meetings could be revealed — will be held at 6:30 p.m. on Nov. 4 at Turlock City Hall.
To contact Maegan Martens, e-mail or call 634-9141 ext. 2015.