It’s the Manteca version of the age-old question of what comes first, the chicken or the egg.

And it might be answered for the first time in nearly 60 years of questioning by elected leaders addressing them simultaneously instead of opting for an approach advocated by staff and consultants since 1963 that insisted one had to take a higher priority over the other.

The question is whether the bane of central Manteca’s existence since the boom that followed the Korean War — moving through traffic through downtown — should be subservient to desires to transform the character of downtown.

Community Services Development Director Chris Erias indicated during Tuesday’s Manteca City Council meeting staff will bring back before elected officials three key questions to answer:

  • Do they want to go ahead and make the Main Street corridor four lanes all the way through downtown?
  • Should the city proceed with traffic signal synchronization on Main Street between Alameda Street and Moffat Boulevard and perhaps as even as far south as Wetmore Street?
  • Does the council want to spend $800,000 on a specific improvement plan for downtown that includes an environmental review template that would be designed in a manner to have a shelf life longer than the meeting where elected leaders accept a consultant’s work?

There is an advantage of answering all three questions at the same time.

Council deciding on Main Street first would create a clear perimeter for downtown plans

By deciding what they want for Main Street based on other pressing community needs before they commission an $800,000 study by a consultant to come up with a recommendation for the corridor that they could reject, the council would be creating perimeters for the specific plan work they can ultimately support and gain community backing to do.

As such it would create a clear perimeter for the consultant to work with. It also would mean for the first time in five or more attempts at creating a “vision” for downtown the 900-pound gorilla that some try to ignore will finally be addressed.

Traffic flow issues through Central Manteca predate concerns about “saving” or ‘transforming” downtown. Furthermore, Main Street is a major north-south arterial and Yosemite Avenue is a major east-west arterial and one of three such arterials that actually cross the Union Pacific Railroad tracks. Neither are collector streets.

The first volley was a Caltrans pitch in the early 1960s to transform then Highway 120 that is now Yosemite Avenue from Fremont Street to Union Road as a one way for eastbound traffic. The proposal was to send westbound traffic down Center Street.

Reconnecting westbound with eastbound traffic west of Union Road was not an issue as the area was farmland. But to make the split would have required removing homes in the neighborhood between Fremont and Cottage.

Several years later in the mid-1960s the first downtown improvement plan was pursued not by the city but by merchants and property owners.

The building of the 120 Bypass took pressure off of Yosemite Avenue. Traffic headed to and from the Bay Area and the Sierra in weekends no longer created colossal traffic snafus on Friday nights and Sunday afternoons.

However as Manteca continued growing Yosemite Avenue became a traffic hot spot seven days a week.

That is when the city floated a revised version of the Caltrans’ one-way street plan. It would have used turns at intersections on Yosemite and Center to send through traffic for a block onto Union Road and Fremont Street.

There were also other “false starts” on downtown plans the municipal staff is now advocating. In each case the consultants, who had been turned loose with vague generalities of what to accomplish, came back with a plan where there was no buy-in on councils at the time to the biggest solutions that included what a consultant saw as best for Main Street.

The city at one point did implement a piecemeal solution to traffic flow through downtown on Main Street. It was in 1992 and ended up being the first of five partial fixes that ultimately were undone or led to what some council members have described as the ultimate fix for the Main Street corridor which is allowing four lanes through the Central district.

That initial solution — no left turns from southbound Main to eastbound Yosemite — was a dismal failure. It was removed after two years.

It was supposed to improve traffic flow and encourage more people to shop downtown. It did neither. It did, however, create a situation where there were two to three accidents a month as numerous drivers refused to comply with the no left turn ban.

Narrowing Main Street traffic flow created response issues for Manteca Ambulance

Progression from that 1992 improvement led to a consultant — after two different travel lane configurations implemented in between — in 2002 to come up with the landscape bulb-outs.

The intent — according to the consultant — was to slow down traffic in a bid to get motorists stuck in traffic to look in store windows and plant the seed they needed to detour and shop in downtown.

Within a year most of the bulb-outs in the 100 blocks were yanked out. The impeding of right turn movements created massive traffic tie ups and increased the response times from the Manteca Ambulance headquarters during medical emergencies to calls south of the train tracks and even west of Main Street.

There were also multiple collisions between vehicles and the bulb-outs.

The council in 2016 directed the remaining bulb-outs be removed and traffic flow be increased through downtown on Main Street by adding more lanes.

Since then city senior management, including part of the current leadership, has tried to convince councils essentially they had no idea of what they were doing, that they weren’t traffic experts, and that it would hurt downtown’s future prospects.