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City seeks review of interchange design as costs skyrocket
• Project costs risen to $220 million and rising
Service overpass delayed
It will be years before the city will see the start of construction for the new Service Road overpass and its new configuration. The interchange project is also costing millions more, which could complicate a 2025 construction start date. - photo by JEFF BENZIGER/Courier file photo

Ceres city officials would love to get going on building the new Service Road Highway 99 overpass and create a new interchange around it and Mitchell Road – but there’s a slight problem: The city needs millions of dollars and doesn’t know where the funding gap of $186 million will come from.

The interchange has been on the drawing board for over 20 years but as time drags cost projections have skyrocketed. Original projections pegged the project at $103 million but now a figure of $220 million is being used. That’s up from the $211 million estimate provided by then City Engineer Kevin Waugh in March 2023.

Last week the Ceres City Council voted 4-1 to hire a Folsom consultant in Dokken Engineering at a cost of $66,610 to perform an independent review of the design work and cost estimates produced by NV5 (formerly Nolte Associates). The city has thus far spent $10 million with NV5 to come up with designs for the Service/Mitchell/Highway 99 interchange that have been acceptable to Caltrans standards. The agreement with NV5 has been amended 13 times to get the design work to what is called the 95% PS&E (Plans, Specs and Estimates) stage. The PS&E is essential to facilitate construction, provide contract control, estimate construction costs, and provide a uniform basis for bidding purposes.

Dokken Engineering will be charged with a design review and conceptual alternative analysis that could ultimately allow for the project to be completed with a smaller budget.

Ceres resident Dave Pratt asked that the council pull the contract approval from the consent agenda to answer his questions.

“I thought all this work was done and how come all of a sudden we’ve got to have a review of the plans and everything and other alternatives on this project?” queried Pratt. “It seems like this interchange gets pushed back farther and farther. Is there any reason the plans aren’t done?”

Beltran, who is a fresh face at City Hall and not experienced with the project, said the 95% plans are not yet complete.

“We need to look at different alternatives, different phasing options that can potentially bring the cost of this project down,” said Beltran. “And so therefore we’ve asked a third party to provide an independent review of the plans as they sit right now and we will continue that throughout the summer.”

Pratt fired back, “So basically what we’re looking at is it’s not ever going to be done” before walking back to his seat.

Vice Mayor Bret Silveira motioned to approve Dokken’s contract which was seconded by Councilman Daniel Martinez. The council approved the contract in a 4-1 vote, with Councilman James Casey voting “no.”

Starting with Joe Hollstein in the 1990s, the interchange has been handled by a number of city engineers as a result of high turnover.

The Stanislaus Council of Governments (StanCOG) has committed to cover $30 million 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. A shortfall would have to be covered by state and federal grants.

Plans call for 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.

As drawn the interchange at Service Road will include a diverging diamond design similar to one in Manteca. Normally a vehicle travelling westbound over a freeway overpass would be on the north side while eastbound motorists would be on the south side of the overpass. The diverging diamond flips that circulation pattern to allow for less traffic conflicts, better and increased traffic flow and better access to the freeway.