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Overpass rerouting
Navigating around the Whitmore /Highway 99 interchange project will get a couple of notches more complicated starting tomorrow, city of Ceres officials are warning motorists.

On Thursday night the contractor on the $16.4 million interchange project is planning to close Whitmore Avenue as traffic is routed onto the new bridge in preparation for the closure of the old Whitmore overpass forever. The next phase of construction calls for the dismantling and removal of the old bridge so that it may be replaced with a new structure. Once the project is done in 2011, the Whitmore Overpass will consist of four lanes.

Another key change will include not being able to use the onramp or offramp on northbound Highway 99 at Whitmore Avenue for an estimated five months.

The city issued a map published with this story that attempts to show what's going to take place. The gray-colored lines indicate roads that are being closed while the black lines indicate the routes that will remain open for now.

This week a new onramp onto northbound 99 is planned to open this week for westbound Whitmore Avenue traffic only. At a later date, a new circular northbound 99 onramp will be added for eastbound Whitmore traffic where the existing ground-level ramp is located. Temporarily this means some fancy jogging for cars and truck drivers headed eastbound and wanting to find a way onto northbound Highway 99.

"What you're going to end up having to do is turn left there at the high school, make another left at the next signal and then make a right and get back onto Whitmore and go that way," said City Engineer Glenn Gebhardt. "Basically they make the loop around that triangle."

The old connection from El Camino to Whitmore just west of the Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant will also be closed, forcing northbound El Camino traffic to go up Central Avenue to reach Whitmore Avenue.

Once the project is finished, a new offramp will connect 99 with Whitmore Avenue.

Gebhardt said staying on top of another agency's project is challenging. The city has been trying to send out notices about detours to affected parties.

"They changed it four times in one day," said Gebhardt. "We kind of get tired of sending notices and looking stupid because we kept saying something would happen that didn't happen."

"What's staggering, truly, is we've had almost no calls," said Gebhardt. "They've had so many detours out there, they're realigned and shifted everything around and everybody says, 'Okay, whatever.' Nobody is complaining, which is incredibly understanding of them. We're just trying to give people a little more sense of what's next."

Gebhardt said he's unsure how or exactly when the old overpass will come down. Dismantling will take place, however, over the span of several nights as the freeway is closed to ensure that no vehicles would be threatened by falling debris.

"They bring in some pretty serious hammers," said Gebhardt.

The contractor is "way ahead of schedule" but that's no indication that the project will be completed early, said Gebhardt.

The $16.4 million interchange project will vastly improve how traffic flows down Whitmore Avenue, a main artery of traffic in Ceres. Some of the worst bottlenecking used to take place in the area of Ceres High School and the Whitmore / Highway 99 Overpass during rush hours.

"It improves the capacity of going across the freeway," said Gebhardt. "It becomes a bottleneck issue trying to get from one side of town to the other. By opening it up to four lanes you can move people across the interchange without having it bottleneck."

Local streets on both sides of Highway 99 have been reconfigured that altered how traffic moves around Ceres High School.

East of the freeway the old northbound onramp will be eliminated in favor of one that will come off the top of the new overpass, giving motorists a chance to get a rapid acceleration downhill thanks to the slope to ensure freeway speed at the bottom.

West of Highway 99, a new connector will be added to allow for southbound turns to connect to Railroad Avenue. It replaces the former sharp hair-pin turn that could not be navigated by trucks needing to access businesses and industries on Railroad Avenue.

The project will affect the Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant on Whitmore Avenue near the freeway. A reconfiguration of El Camino means the west side driveway will be eliminated but the parking lot will expand into what is now roadway.