By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
City advances to right of way phase of Service / Mitchell interchange project
Service Road overpass file
The Service Road overpass will not be replaced any time soon with a diverging diamond design. Construction is projected to start in fiscal year 2025-26. - photo by JEFF BENZIGER/ Courier file photo

The quest to build a new freeway interchange at Service and Mitchell roads advanced last week when the Ceres City Council arranged to seek funds for the management of the right-of-way acquisition phase.

The city and Caltrans have been meeting since 1997 to plan a new interchange.

Action taken last week allows the city to receive $150,000 from Measure L tax funds to hire an outside professional right-of-way (ROW) agent who will set up and oversee property acquisition. The ROW acquisition phase will begin in July and take up to two years.

Last week City Engineer Kevin Waugh gave an update of the project which has been in the planning stage for over 25 years. He gave a new time table for the interchange project, saying it could begin by the 2025-26 fiscal year with completion in 2027-28.

The project calls for the replacement of the Service Road freeway overpass with a new “diverging diamond” pattern, changes to local streets around the overpass and modifications to the Mitchell Road off-ramp going under the freeway.

Since 2006 the city has been working with the engineering firm of Nolte Associates (now NV5) to complete the design work on the Project Approval/Environmental Document (PAED). Caltrans has approved those plans. NV5 then proceeded to the next stage to get the Plan, Specifications and Estimates (PS&E) to 65 percent complete and now 95 percent complete. The PS&E is essential to facilitate construction, provide contract control, estimate construction costs, and provide a uniform basis for bidding purposes.

Since the new Service Road overpass includes a new southbound freeway off-ramp over railroad property, the Union Pacific Railroad is a stakeholder in the project. Waugh said that last month Union Pacific approved a 35 percent bridge design submission and has requested that NV5 submit a 90 percent design document for final structural review and approval.

ROW acquisition will involve properties on the east side of Highway 99 north of Service Road. Those properties are needed to build a new northbound freeway onramp. The agent will oversee title and escrow services, prepare appraisals, meet with property owners, make offers, negotiate the transfer of ownership and provide relocation services of displaced residents if needed. All the ROW must be acquired before the 100 percent complete PS&E document is submitted for Caltrans approval.

Waugh said the interchange project is expected to cost an estimated $211 million. The Stanislaus Council of Governments (StanCOG) has agreed to spend $30 million on the Ceres interchange from the half-cent sales tax measure passed by county voters in 2016. The city of Ceres has set aside $4.29 million for the project. There is a shortfall of $176.3 million which would have to be covered by state and federal grants.

The existing interchange at Mitchell Road will be converted to a partial interchange, with a northbound off-ramp and a southbound on-ramp to Highway 99 and a replacement of the Mitchell Road undercrossing. The project includes an extended deceleration lane at the northbound off-ramp to Mitchell Road, and an extended acceleration lane at the southbound on-ramps from Mitchell Road and Service Road. There will also be the addition of auxiliary lanes between the Service Road interchange and the Fourth Street ramps.

Local roads affected by the project include El Camino Avenue, Rohde Road, Moffett Road, Don Pedro Road, Sixth Street, Ninth Street, Lucas Road and Brickit Court.