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Whitmore project a go
On the site of what was recently a tire shop, state and city officials turned the shovel on a project guaranteed to bring about more changes. The ground-breaking ceremony for the Whitmore/Hwy. 99 interchange kicks off two years' worth of construction to make traffic flow better along Whitmore Avenue near Highway 99.

City officials were expressed joy that the project cleared the huddle of years of financing shortfalls and that construction is underway.

"This is an important project to the city of Ceres and Stanislaus County," said Kome Ajise, Caltrans District 10 director. "This interchange will relieve current congestion and support the movement of goods and people."

Planning for the project has been in the work since 1991 with city officials and Caltrans working through red tape, funding shortages and significant delays at the state level. Partial funding finally came through with the passage of Proposition 1B, the voter-approved transportation bond.

City Councilman Ken Lane said he was excited to turn one of the shovels as a symbolic act of starting the project. Vice Mayor Chris Vierra said that in addition to curing a significant traffic headache for Ceres, the project will "create jobs for an industry that's hurting."

Construction bids for the project came in at $16.4 million, far less than the engineer's estimate of $22.8 million. Right of way land acquisition and other costs bring the project to a total cost of $26 million.

The new interchange will eliminate serious rush hour bottlenecking of traffic by making Whitmore four lanes between Central Avenue and Blaker Road. The overpass will include sidewalks on both north and south shoulders.

Local streets on both sides of Highway 99 will be reconfigured that will vastly alter how traffic moves around Ceres High School.

West of Highway 99, a new connector will be added to allow for southbound turns to connect to Railroad Avenue. It replaces a current sharp hair-pin turn that cannot be used by trucks needing to access Railroad Avenue businesses and industries.

East of the freeway, new roads will eliminate the current northbound onramp. A new connection will be constructed to link Whitmore and Central with the frontage road near the Ceres Farm Labor Camp.

The project will result in some significant traffic disruptions but work will mostly be scheduled at night to reduce the impacts. The worst will occur when Highway 99 is shut down on four nights while crews set steal beams into place. Traffic will be detoured onto city streets.