The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act may sound like one of those Big Government deals that seldom reach Merced, but its impact can be seen right on Highway 99 near the V Street exit.
The large upright steel beams in the median of the highway are part of a project to replace the 48-year-old overpass. It aims to correct structural deficiencies, improve sight distance for drivers and provide more clearance for the railroad.
Caltrans, which subcontracted RGW Construction Inc., is working on the project. It will replace the two bridges at the West Merced Overhead and retrofit two Bear Creek bridges, said Chantel Miller, public information officer for Caltrans.
Though some of the steel beams in the median are about 20 feet tall, the overpass will only be raised six feet, said Ted Haynish, structure foreman.
"The reason we're replacing the bridges is because they're worn out and beat up," he said.
The two Bear Creek bridges are being retrofitted for earthquake safety. Crews will also add vehicle pullouts for maintenance trucks.
The Recovery Act funded all $30 million of the improvements, Miller said. The project was originally expected to cost $35 million, but came in under bid.
The Highway 99 project, which started in February, is on time and expected to be completed in about two years, Haynish said.
Caltrans doesn't expect many major traffic delays in the area, but some lanes may be shut down while transitioning Highway 99 traffic during the overpass replacement, Miller said. While the overpass is being raised, lanes of traffic will be redirected so the entire freeway doesn't shut down.
"They're going to try and make that as smooth as possible, and we'll let people know as those closures come up," she said.
California leads the nation with $2.5 billion in Recovery Act funding obligated to 931 highway and local street projects across the state.
With an unemployment rate of 18.1 percent, Mercedians hope those steel beams support more local jobs as well as new bridges.
Reporter Mike North can be reached at (209) 385-2453 or firstname.lastname@example.org.