County supervisors awarded a $1.5 million contract yesterday to TY Lin International of Sacramento to conduct the environmental study of a project to ultimately build a bridge over the Tuolumne River to connect Faith Home Road and Garner Road near Ceres.
The firm will also conduct preliminary engineering of the project, which includes traffic signals at Faith Home and Hatch roads and at Garner and Finch roads.
The connection northeast of Ceres would serve as an alternative to the congested Mitchell Road Bridge which now carries 80,000 vehicles each day.
County and city of Ceres planners first began talking about a Garner-Faith Home connection prior to 2004. Ceres officials have planned for Faith Home Road to become a six-lane expressway but have been waiting for the new connection.
Stanislaus County Public Works Director Matt Machado said the county wants to get through the environmental documentation to lead to a preliminary design. The study will determine the viability of the project, he said, noting that "it doesn't make sense to design something if environmentally it's going to have problems."
The bridge also could cost as much as $50 million. A connection stretching from Garner Road to Highway 99 could cost $180 million.
"We're not talking about building anything yet," said Machado. "There's a lot we need to do."
The county will seek lots of public input during the study phase, he said. If Beard Industrial Tract leaders don't want the project, it will probably be abandoned, Machado said.
Environmental studies could take three years or longer with the bigger question of funding to be resolved.