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City buys more land for new interchange
• Interchange is about two years from construction
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Caltrans has officially approved this diverging diamond design for the future Service Road interchange at Highway 99.

Another piece of property needed for the right-of-way for a new interchange at Service/Mitchell Road was approved for purchase last week by the Ceres City Council.

The city is paying $308,000 for the less than half-acre at 3824 El Camino Avenue. The property is located north of Service and west of Evalee Lane.

Since 1997 the city has been planning to build a new interchange that improves circulation between Highway 99 and Service and Mitchell roads. Currently there is no connection with the freeway at Service Road.

City officials are hopeful that the new Service/Mitchell/Highway 99 interchange is started the summer of 2021 and completed by 2023 or 2024. The project will include one of California’s first “diverging diamond” designs.

The project, which is listed on Caltrans website as costing $133.5 million, will impact El Camino Avenue between Don Pedro and Service roads, said Ceres City Manager Toby Wells. Measure L will kick in $31.1 million while public facility fees another $96.7 million. Redevelopment bond proceeds will chip in another $5.7 million.

“El Camino will be eliminated between those two stretches,” said Wells. “Those properties that front El Camino will all be directly impacted. North of Don Pedro it’s more of a sliver, meaning the roadway, for the most part, will be within the right-of-way.”

The city has been slowly buying properties on El Camino for project right-of-way. One of the biggest purchases was for the Holy Apostolic Catholic Assyrian Church of the East, 3900 Brickit Court, for $1.2 million in 2017. Wells said the city is leasing the church to the congregation for $1 until it needs to be razed for interchange construction.

About six more parcels are needed to be snatched up.

Wells said that the bulb of Brickit Court will stay intact but access will come off of Don Pedro instead El Camino. The plan is to build a road south to Brickit Court from Don Pedro along the western boundary of the proposed Mitchell Ranch Shopping Center.

Also to be impacted on Brickit Court is Nelson & Sons Electric.

Maps and project information are available at the Ceres Library, 2250 Magnolia, or online at http://www.dot.ca.gov/d10/x-project-sr99mitchell.html

The city had only two design concepts deemed feasible, however the other one did not significantly change the current conflict with traffic moving on the southbound freeway off-ramp at Mitchell Road with cross traffic coming onto the southbound 99 on-ramp. It also did nothing to improve circulation to west of the freeway, said Wells.

The diverging diamond concept is unique but not new in the country. Its popularity is growing because of its safety factor. In a traditional interchange there are 26 points of conflict with only 14 with the diverging diamond. The design significantly reduces both the number and severity of accidents because of slower speeds and reduced chance for broadside crashes.

The nearest diverging diamond is operational near the Reno Airport south of I-80 and off of 580. One is being evaluating for Union Road in Manteca, which Wells called simpler than the more complex one for Ceres because of the railroad configuration. Wells said the design makes sense because of the constraints of land and land uses.

Ceres officials prefer the diverging diamond design as the best to handle traffic volumes into 2040. That’s why triple left-hand turn lanes are being designed for the intersection of Service and Mitchell roads. That equates to five or six times to movement potential than exists today. The design also takes into consideration the limitations caused by the railroad tracks that run parallel just to the west of 99.

Wells said the diverging diamond design will allow full freeway access at Service Road.

“One of the key things that it does is provide us that direct access to west of 99,” he said.

Motorists will be able to get on and off the freeway in all directions at Service Road. That’s important because of the regional commercial uses that are being designed into Ceres’ new General Plan.

The new interchange will also eliminate the current route motorists exit southbound 99 at Mitchell Road. The current southbound off-ramp and southbound on-ramps cross each other, forcing drivers coming off the southbound freeway to stop and wait for a clearance in southbound Mitchell Road traffic streaming onto the on-ramp. Under the new design, the only freeway access at Mitchell Road to remain would be the southbound on-ramp and the northbound freeway on-ramp.

The diamond design concept is well explained in several Youtube.com videos. Normally a vehicle traveling over a freeway overpass would be on the right side of the structure. The diverging diamond flips that pattern, mostly because it allows for less traffic conflicts, better and increased traffic flows and better access to the freeway. Proper signage is a “critical component” in keeping motorists from becoming confused about movement, said Wells.

Diverging diamond interchanges have worked successfully in more than 50 locations in Colorado, Missouri, Florida, Minnesota, Wyoming, Nevada, Idaho, Texas, Utah, Kansas, Pennsylvania, Mississippi, Tennessee, Ohio, New York, Georgia and other states. Europe has used the design for about 40 years, said Wells.

The interchange design is key for the development of the area along Mitchell Road near Highway 99. The Mitchell Road Shopping Center with the Walmart Supercenter has been approved north of Service Road and development is expected soon for the triangle Gateway piece to the south.

The city has been planning a new Service/Mitchell/99 interchange since 1997. The original design called for couplets – where Mitchell Road was southbound and Moore Road was the northbound movement – but it was scrapped for an expensive 2002 design plan which Caltrans ultimately rejected in 2009. The city dusted off the interchange project in 2011 and consulted Caltrans about better designs.

 


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With Mitchell Road improvements nearly complete, this area of Ceres is primed for the next commercial boom. The vacant lot at upper center is where the Mitchell Ranch Shopping Center and Walmart Supercenter will be built. The triangle-shaped lot at left is pegged for the Gateway Center. Meanwhile, the city and Caltrans are planning a new interchange for Service & Mitchell. - photo by Jeff Benziger