Manteca Mayor Ben Cantu spoke of more than 10 years of teamwork between a myriad of government agencies as trucks carrying dirt rumbled down McKinley Avenue.

Cantu was addressing a rally at the west end of Daniels Street on Thursday morning.

The occasion marked the official inauguration of the $23.3 million McKinley Avenue and 120 Bypass interchange project.

This will be the last interchange built on the six-mile stretch of the 120 Bypass.

This fact is irrelevant to what the event really marked.

As another speaker, Congressman Josh Harder, will later point out, one of the three main impacts of the project will be to “unlock hundreds of millions of dollars” of economic opportunity for the region.

It’s not that the other two key impacts don’t matter. Improving safety and reducing traffic congestion for those using the 120 Bypass, part of the longest commuter route by time in the country, are both top priorities.

It’s just that the regional economic impact cannot be overstated.

In the distance, behind the dignitaries turning the first ceremonial shovels of earth, were two recently completed 800,000 square foot distribution center-style buildings, ready for lease. In the vast expanse of open fields between them and McKinley Avenue, Lathrop Gateway developers intend to build more business park-style structures that will generate thousands of jobs.

In the direction they were throwing the land, stood the 500-room Great Wolf indoor water park complex.

It – and long with the Big League Dreams sports complex – are the two anchors of a 120-acre family entertainment that is moving forward.

To the right of dignitaries and out of sight by the elevated 120 Bypass, teams have launched four approved projects that will add more than 3,000 homes to southwest Manteca.

There is no doubt that the “change” involved in the global exchange is real and not wishful thinking.

It could spark one of the most explosive areas of growth and multi-faceted economic opportunity in San Joaquin County this decade.

The Great Wolf complex alone represents an investment of $180 million which has generated nearly 500 jobs. It set the stage to swell the net flow of council tax into municipal coffers by millions of dollars each year to support day-to-day municipal services.

The swap will allow Great Wolf, if they choose, to exercise an option to add an additional 200 rooms. And that’s just the beginning. A brew pub opens along Daniels Street later this year. Work has just begun on a four-story, 101-room Staybridge Suites on Daniels Street as well. And there is more to come. Much more.

And this was made possible by the aggregate purchasing power of a penny.

Well, not exactly a penny. Half a penny.

Each time a taxable transaction occurs in San Joaquin County, a voter-approved sales tax for transportation-related projects collects one-half cent.

That half-cent levy allowed the San Joaquin Council of Governments, working with Manteca, to use $7 million to leverage an additional $12.3 million in public funding, just over three-quarters the cost of the actual exchange. This, combined with growth fees and other sources of income such as the redevelopment fund, made the job possible.

The first partial of Manteca

cloverleaf interchange

The McKinley Interchange is designed as the city’s first partial cloverleaf. But in order to save money, the city chooses to build the inner ramp loops at a later date.

This means that initial construction will have all left turns from McKinley Avenue to 120. Bypass on-ramps will pass through signalized intersections, just as they currently do at the Airport, Union and Main interchanges. When the loops are complete, northbound traffic on McKinley Avenue will be able to take the westbound 120 without going through a traffic light, as McKinley would southbound to the eastbound 120.

It will include a separate bike lane under the 120 Bypass which will eventually connect to the Atherton Drive bike lane to provide access to Big League Dreams and the planned family entertainment area.

Eventually it will be a link in a separate bike path that loops around the city following McKinley Avenue north to connect with a path that runs behind Del Webb in Woodbridge that crosses Union Road and joins the Tidewater Bike Path . The Tidewater then heads south and joins the Atherton Drive cycle path via Industrial Park Drive and Van Ryn Avenue.

The McKinley Avenue interchange is also part of the long-term traffic plan for Manteca south of the 120 bypass where over 60% of the city’s population is expected to be by 2040.

To contact Dennis Wyatt, email