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Firm to start beautification of Whitmore interchange
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Caution signs are up and crews are working on a project to landscape the Whitmore / Highway 99 interchange which has been barren since 2011. - photo by JEFF BENZIGER/Courier photo

The ugly barren state of the Whitmore/Highway 99 interchange - long the source of grumbling by local officials toward the state - will begin to be upgraded with landscaping very soon.

City Engineer/Assistant City Manager Toby Wells reported on Monday that the contractor for the landscaping project came into Ceres last week and began the 90-day construction window process. The first step: posting CAUTION signs for motorists to be aware of workers in the area.

Dirt, weeds and trash have marred the Whitmore Interchange since its dedication in 2011. But a $790,161 contract awarded to Marina Landscaping last year will see an end to freeway blight that has embarrassed city officials who aim to make Ceres more attractive to new business and industry.

The state completed the freeway interchange over two years ago but did not allocate the funding to install the landscaping on both the west and east sides of the new overpass. Wells said Caltrans ran out of money but the city recently pushed for and received permission from the Stanislaus Council of Governments (StanCOG) to spend state transportation funds on the project. The expenditure had to be approved by the California Transportation Commission.

The landscaping will include irrigation systems, plantings, hydro-seeding, decorative rock and mulch, decomposed granite and colored stamped concrete.
Construction was supposed to start in November but Caltrans enacted a last-minute hitch.

"It did take a significant amount of time to get them (Caltrans) onboard with our contractor so that has all been revised and the holidays came into play but the contractor has physically started work," reported Wells on Monday.

Construction should be completed in the spring with plantings in March, said Wells.

The contract calls for Marina Landscaping of Anaheim to maintain the landscaping for three years, at which time Caltrans would take it over.

At Monday's City Council meeting a resident questioned if the landscaping project covered the triangular-shaped island across the street from Ceres High School. Wells explained that the state owns the property and is seeking to sell it and won't be landscaping it.