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Interchange undaunted by budget woes
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So far the problem of the state not having a budget has not impacted the Whitmore Highway 99 interchange project.

Last month Caltrans suggested that the lack of a state budget could cause the state to not pay contractors hired to do several road projects - including the Ceres project. According to City Engineer Glenn Gebhardt, the state has not suspended payments for work already in progress.

Gebhardt expressed frustration in the city's ability to get dependable information from Caltrans on the project since the state is overseeing the work.

"They tell us the same story that they're continuing work, making good progress and they're not pulling off the job," said Gebhardt.

Information has not been dependable, he added. For over a month the city was told that the northbound Highway 99 offramp at Whitmore Avenue would be open in "weeks." As of Monday the offramp had not been opened.

At least two merchants on Whitmore Avenue, the Chevron station and Kentucky Fried Chicken, are anxious to see the offramp open. Business has been negatively impacted because of the closure of the freeway offramp into downtown.

State lawmakers and the governor are constitutionally mandated to pass a state budget by June 30 every year. They have failed to do so, once again. Caltrans officials sent out a memo last month detailing the affects of the state budget impasse on $9.5 billion worth of road projects under construction in the state.

The $17 million Ceres project is listed under a list of projects that "could be impacted if a prolonged budget impasse depletes cash balances to pay construction invoices."

The Ceres project is due to be finished up by November.

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

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 wrapp up by November.

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.

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 going up. 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 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.

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.