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Early finish for interchange?
Construction is continuing to take place for the second bridge that will make up the new Whitmore interchange overpass.

Steel was put in place over the past two weeks with Highway 99 shut down on some nights and early morning hours to guarantee no motorists would be put in harm's way should anything fall the the asphalt below.

City Engineer Glenn Gebhardt said that Nehemiah Construction of Benecia is only contractually obligated by the state to finish the $16.4 million Ceres project by July 2011. But Gebhardt said it's conceivable that the project could be wrapped up by November.

"If they keep at their current pace they are telling us the could be finished by Thanksgiving," said Gebhardt. "While they have no plans to leave that's still an option.

"It looks real encouraging. We're pleased."

Plans are to soon open the new northbound offramp at Whitmore Avenue within weeks, he added. The plan is also to open up the new cloverleaf northbound onramp first, though.

Caltrans told Gebhardt that they listened to the requests from business and community leaders in pressing the contractor to open the offramp early as possible.

Among the businesses that have been negatively impacted by the closure of the northbound onramp are the Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant and the Chevron station next door.

With the first new overpass structure complete and in operation, the project is currently in its second big phase. With the old narrow 1965 overpass dismantled, a new overpass - a twin to the one just built - is in skeletal form. Bull dozers have been sculpting the ground just west of the KFC to make way for a new onramp which will loop off from the lanes of eastbound Whitmore Avenue. The design of the old northbound onramp was deficient as its sharp turn didn't allow cars for rapid acceleration onto Highway 99.

The interchange project will vastly improve how traffic flows down Whitmore Avenue, a main artery of traffic in Ceres. Some of the worst bottlenecking used to take place in the area of Ceres High School and the Whitmore / Highway 99 Overpass during rush hours.

"It improves the capacity of going across the freeway," said Gebhardt. "It becomes a bottleneck issue trying to get from one side of town to the other. By opening it up to four lanes you can move people across the interchange without having it bottleneck."

Local streets on both sides of Highway 99 have been reconfigured that altered how traffic moves around Ceres High School.

East of the freeway the old northbound onramp was eliminated in favor of one that comes off the top of the new overpass, giving motorists a chance to get a rapid acceleration downhill thanks to the slope to ensure freeway speed at the bottom.

West of Highway 99, a new connector will be added to allow for southbound turns to connect to Railroad Avenue. It replaces the former sharp hair-pin turn that could not be navigated by trucks needing to access businesses and industries on Railroad Avenue.

A reconfiguration of El Camino means the west side driveway of Kentucky Fried Chicken will be eliminated but the parking lot will expand into what is now roadway.

Motorists are already using a crisscross pattern of new local streets directly in front of Ceres High School.