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Railroad puts fear of more delays for Service/Mitchell/99 interchange
City to scramble for grants to fund much of $211 million project
service road overpass
Plans call for the heavily used Service Road overpass to be demolished and reconfigured into a diverging diamond interchange. - photo by Jeff Benziger

A change of heart of the Union Pacific Railroad could setback the construction of the Service/Mitchell/Highway 99 interchange, Ceres City Engineer Kevin Waugh told the City Council on Monday.

Waugh gave an update of the project which has been in the planning stage for over 25 years.

The project calls for a new overpass at Service Road to replace the existing one, changes to local streets around the overpass and modifications to the Mitchell Road off-ramp going under the freeway.

In June 2020, the Union Pacific “expressed a little bit of concern for our cast-in-place box girder design of the bridge” that will go over its tracks, said Waugh. He said the railroad had signed off on the plan in 2017. Now the railroad wants to see a precast concrete beam bridge.

“This is a serious design change on our part that would put us back to 50 percent completion level on the design where we are currently at 95 percent,” said Waugh. He said the city will lobby Caltrans to keep the original design to move the project forward.

Waugh said he is optimistic that the railroad will drop its concerns since they initially approved those design plans.

“The outcome of this is unknown and the costs have not been calculated.”

The engineering firm of Nolte Associates (now NV5) began work in 2006 to work on the Project Approval/Environmental Document (PAED). Caltrans approved those plans. NV5 then proceeded to the next stage to get the Plan, Specifications and Estimates (PS&E) to 65 percent complete. The firm is now working on the PS&E to 95 percent complete; and 100 percent done by the fall of 2025. If all goes as planned and funding is secured, construction could begin the summer 2026 and take 28 to 32 months to finish.

“That was the optimistic plan,” said Waugh. 

His update to the council touched on how the city will be seeking a consultant to manage the purchase of right-of-way necessary for the project with the goal of having the property secured by early 2025.

He also said the council will soon be asked to allocate an additional $400,000 for planning documents as Caltrans guidelines have triggered additional structural calculation requirements as well as traffic management plans for lane closures during construction. He also mentioned the need for subsurface potholing requirements to identity utility locations. Potholing is an investigative construction method whereby the location of underground utilities is exposed. The $400,000 will come from Measure L and a street funds account.

Waugh said as of today, the interchange project is expected to cost an estimated $211 million. Measure L funds will fund $30.7 million while Ceres has set aside $4.29 million, meaning a shortfall of $176.3 million which could be covered by state and federal grants.