By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Interchange work will get messy
For such a massive undertaking, the Whitmore/Highway 99 interchange has generated few complaints from motorists. They've generally learned how to navigate around the construction zone. But city officials expect the frustration level to rise as the next phase of work gets more complicated and disruptive.

"I'm truly amazed at how little complaints we've received," said city of Ceres City Engineer Glenn Gebhardt. "People have been really understanding but there's a lot more closures to be done. The next phase is going to be real destruction."

The freeway has been closed about six times since groundbreaking in September 2008. The night time closures have forced traffic through Ceres, which has not been convenient.

Sometime next month the new overpass bridge will be open for two lanes of travel while the old structure is removed. That will require the temporary closure of Highway 99. Gebhardt said bridge removal techniques can vary, including cutting up sections and removing it that way or blowing it up with charges.

Highway 99 will also need to be closed when the framing goes up for the second new bridge where the first existing bridge is located. The freeway will also be closed at night for the removal of the framing for the second new bridge.

Also to mess up things will be closure of the northbound onramp and northbound offramps at Whitmore Avenue for periods of time.

"It'll probably happen before Christmas," said Gebhardt.

When it's all completed in a year and a half, Ceres will have a new four-lane overpass.

The project is also bringing about changes to onramps, including a new sloped onramp for northbound Highway 99 from westbound Whitmore Avenue. Another curved onramp will be provided for eastbound Whitmore Avenue that replaces the grade level looped onramp near Kentucky Fried Chicken.

"Often they're referred to the old type of rural interchange and it's just because back then Highway 99 wasn't a full freeway," said Gebhardt. "When it was first started, 99 was just like you see further south where you had signals. Traffic wasn't as fast and it wasn't as heavy."

Gebhardt said that the project has been "extremely complicated" for the contractor since work has to be juggled around existing traffic. For example, he said the traffic signal at Whitmore and Central has been reconfigured about four or five times.

"They're actually way ahead of schedule," said City Engineer Glenn Gebhardt. But he gets nervous telling people that.

"They are absolutely ahead of their schedule but they could choose to disappear for nine months and there's nothing we can do about it," said Gebhardt. "They only have to finish by the due date. The only reason they would walk away for a while is if they get a great job that offered a substantial amount of profit and they had to pull off the crew in Ceres to do that job and come back and finish up ours."

Gebhardt said that that scenario is only a possibility, saying the project was bid quite a bit less than the engineer's estimate. As a result the city engineer believes that the contractor is "not making a whole lot of profit."

The $16.4 million 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 will be eliminated in favor of one that will come 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.

The project will affect the Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant on Whitmore Avenue near the freeway. A reconfiguration of El Camino means the west side driveway 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.

Caltrans may have extra pieces of land left over, said Gebhardt, and have to decide what to do with them. Gebhardt said the process of deciding will probably take a year or two. The Ceres Unified School District has expressed interest in having the new triangle of land in front of Ceres High School as part of the entrance.