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City renews push for southern interchange
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Anxious to get the ball rolling again on an eventual Service Road/Mitchell Road/Highway 99 interchange, the Ceres City Council acted Monday evening to get Nolte Engineering back in the picture.

Officials admit that it will take many years to get state funding for the project but say environmental work must be finished for the state to consider it a project to be funded.

"The sooner we can get this environmental document done," said City Engineer Toby Wells, "the sooner we have a real project that we can then get in line for funding. The ultimate time frame here is the funding for the project. We're talking $50 to $100 million range for construction."

City officials consider a new and improved freeway interchange at Mitchell and Service roads as necessary for the marketability and development of the Southern Gateway for regional commercial uses. The current interchange does not provide for a good highway access, particularly when it comes to Service Road and areas to be developed west of Highway 99.

Wells said the city would like to get a design nailed down to begin letting development occur in the area known as the "southern gateway."

The city has already spent $2 million on project work and expects to spend $1.3 million to get the project completed for consideration of state funding. The work is expected to take 16 to 18 months.

It's expected that the project would be split into two phases with the Mitchell portion being tackled first.

Tentatively, the interchange project consists of:

• Shifting the freeway toward the east at Service Road;

• Widening the existing northbound off-ramp to Mitchell Road to two lanes;

• Building modified interchanges east and west of the freeway at Service Road;

• Widening Mitchell Road to six lanes between Rohde and Don Pedro roads;

• Widening Service Road to six lanes between Moffet and Mitchell roads;

• Realigning El Camino Avenue from Service Road to Sixth Street;

• Realigning Lucas Road to connect to Moffet Road south of Service Road rather than the existing connection to Service Road east of Moffet Road.

The city hired Nolte in 2007 to start the environmental work on the project. The work stopped when the funding did.

"Back then we had grants and loans to do stuff and in the interim that stuff has dried up," said Mike Brinton, an engineer with the city. "We're hoing to get back to status to define the project so we can still apply for grants, which there are not many of as well as tell people this is the area to be affected."

Under the leadership of then Mayor Anthony Cannella, the council grew irritated at cost over-runs and the city and Nolte had communication issues. Mayor Chris Vierra said he had assurances from Nolte that new staff would not let that happen again.

In August 2008 the City Council took Nolte to task for delays and rising costs. Part of the delay was due to the fact that Nolte and Caltrans were at odds over whether designs on paper would work in real life. Specifically, Nolte designed a dual lane on-ramp concept for southbound Hwy. 99 at both Service and Mitchell. Caltrans later was recommended them to be separate even though the dual lane concept meets Caltrans' standards and would work well.

The single lane design was offered to avoid affecting the existing overpass and adding more costs to the project.