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Service Road overpass still years off
• City Council OKs next phase of design work
Service Road overpass
The Service Road overpass will not be replaced any time soon. Design and engineering work was ordered on Monday to make the project ready for bid. - photo by Jeff Benziger

Construction of the new freeway interchange with Service and Mitchell roads is still years away with costs likely to rise with time.

On Monday the Ceres City Council gave permission for Nolte Associates (now known as NV5) to proceed with the next phase of engineering and design work to bring it closer to its expected 2024 start construction date.

Specifically the council approved $2.1 million for the firm to bring the Plans, Specifications and Estimates (PS&E) phase to 95 percent completion.

Councilwoman Linda Ryno asked City Engineer Daniel Padilla if it seemed like the city was spending an “excessive amount” of money to get to where the project is currently.

Currently, approximately $10 million have been spent to get the project to its current status.

“It just seems like we aren’t even close to getting that interchange done and we’re going to spend another $2.1 million,” said Ryno.

Padilla said the amounts in the contract were locked in in 2006. He said while it is a lot of money he commented “they do not seem excessive.”

“This phase will get us pretty much to have complete construction documents … to be very close to going out to bid,” said Padilla.

The city will still need to allocate more funds to complete the five percent left of the PS&E – to accommodate for any late revisions  – before going out to bid. However, the city still needs to purchase additional rights of way as well as secure funding.

The city is using county Measure L sales tax revenue for part of the design and construction. The balance will have to be made up from state and federal government grants. Measure will cover 61 percent of the cost of the PSE or $2.1 million. 

NV5 has completed the Project Approval/Environmental Document (PAED) phase of the project.

The interchange project goes back to 2002 when Caltrans and the city identified the four primary alternatives to address road improvements.

“It seems the process has taken so long, but that’s pretty common,” commented Ryno. “I think we were planning to be the first one to build the diverging diamond (in the state) and Manteca beat us. I’m not sure how long they were in the process.”

Padilla surmised that Manteca was ahead of Ceres in securing funding sources while Ceres hasn’t.

The Stanislaus Council of Governments, or StanCOG, committed to use $30.74 million of Measure L tax revenue on the Ceres interchange. More funding is expected from SB 1, the state’s gas tax increase and car registration fee hike that survived a repeal effort in November 2018. The entire project is expected to cost somewhere in the area of $95 million.

The new interchange design would eliminate the way motorists exit southbound 99 at Mitchell Road. The southbound Mitchell Road on-ramp and Highway 99 off-ramps cross each other, so drivers coming off the freeway must stop and wait for a break in southbound Mitchell Road traffic headed toward the on-ramp. Under the diverging diamond design, the only freeway access at Mitchell Road to remain would be the southbound on-ramp and the northbound freeway on-ramp.

The interchange at Service Road will include a diverging diamond design, which is well explained in several YouTube videos. 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.

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.

The design calls for the Brickit Court industrial area to be accessible by Don Pedro Road and not the current route via El Camino Avenue.