Since 2011, the naked and litter-strewn dirt embankments of the new Whitmore/Highway 99 interchange were a source of embarrassment to city officials who have stepped up an economic development push to attract new business. It was akin to having a dirt front yard while neighbors like Ripon had the full treatment.
That embarrassment is over now that a $790,161 job has been completed by Marina Landscaping.
Now travelers up and down 99 see an attractive design created by waves of reddish-brown rock and bark, and borders of river rock. Planted are eastern redbud, golden rain, deodar cedar and interior live oak trees. The landscaping area also features wildflowers and creeping rosemary, desert carpet acacia, New Zealand flax ‘dusky chief' and ‘sunset' rockrose shrubs.
City, county and state officials dedicated the $41.9 million Howard Stevenson Memorial Interchange a stone's throw from the Kentucky Fried Chicken east of the freeway in 2011, in full view of barren shoulders of the earthen approaches to the improved overpass structure. Mayor Chris Vierra noted at that time that the city was pushing for the project to be completed with landscaping but the project ran out of funding. The city 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. As a result, Ceres taxpayers only paid $86,161 of the project.
The landscaping includes irrigation systems, plantings, hydro-seeding, decorative rock and mulch, decomposed granite and colored stamped concrete.
"We've been getting some really good reviews on that project," said City Manager Toby Wells. "We're very happy with the construction of that project and it's finally wrapping up. We had folks that were actually stopping on the off-ramps telling the contractors what a good job they were doing - not exactly safe but it's still good to hear positive feedback."
Wells said getting the project funded and ordered was fraught with "a lot of pain."
The contract calls for Marina Landscaping of Anaheim to maintain the landscaping for three years, at which time Caltrans would take it over.
"That really helps to minimize any impacts to the general fund," said Wells.
Caltrans will continue maintaining the landscaping after the three years is up, he said, but city crews will be responsible for the west side.
The interchange was dedicated in 2011 to the memory of Ceres Police Sgt. Howard "Howie" Stevenson who was murdered on Jan. 5, 2005 while on duty. City officials were successful in getting then Assemblyman Bill Berryhill to carry legislation to name the new overpass and interchange for Stevenson. Then Police Chief Art deWerk made a trip to Sacramento on April 13, 2013, to assist Berryhill get Assembly Concurrent Resolution (ACR) 20 moved out of the Assembly Transportation Committee. It passed as a consent item.