November 30, 2011

Public invited to array of opening ceremonies Saturday for G Street Underpass project

The city of Merced said the public is invited to tour the G Street Underpass before the formal dedication ceremony at noon, Saturday, Dec. 3. The road will be open to pedestrians at 11 a.m. so that people can see the modern marvels normally hidden from view. Later in the day Mayor Bill Spriggs and former Mayor Ellie Wooten will ride in the vehicle that will be the first car to drive under the underpass. Local students will be involved in a ribbon cutting for the sidewalks that lead to an elementary school and a middle school. Staff and contractors will be on hand to show the huge storm water pumps that would drain the underpass in case of a heavy rain, explain the network of pipes buried below the asphalt and the electrical system that provides all the power. Artists Kristan Robinson and Monika Modest will be at the underpass to discuss their artworks that will be decorating the underpass walls and City staff will also be available to discuss the surveillance cameras that protect the art, and other features, from vandals. There also will be information tables on Neighborhood Watch, recycling, crime prevention, fire safety, transportation available during the event. The road project has its roots in a tragedy occurring almost 80 years ago. It was at the intersection of G Street and the then Santa Fe railroad tracks that a school bus coming from Fremont School was struck by a train. Seven students were killed and another 23 were injured. The tragedy on May 7, 1931 helped lead to the legislation that requires all occupied buses to stop at railroad crossings. One of the survivors of the accident will be on hand for the undercrossing dedication. G Street has been closed for the last 18 months for construction of an underpass at the Burlington Northern and Santa Fe tracks. The underpass is the largest road project in the city’s history. It involved the complete reconstruction of the railroad crossing, the installation of 45 pilings to hold the bridge and the construction of a massive storm water drainage system. In addition, the project involved rerouting sewer and water lines, along with moving natural gas lines and power poles. The completion of this project means that Central and North Merced residents can move without having to stop for train traffic. Before the underpass, police, fire and other public safety vehicles in Merced spend up to two hours each day delayed by the trains. The City can have up to 42 trains a day cutting through town. The only overhead crossing for the BNSF railroad in the city is the two-lane Bradley Overhead on the edge of town that is more that is more 70 years old and gets closed in the winter when roads are too frosty or icy. (It is now being rebuilt) The next nearest crossing is 10 miles away. The $18 million project is funded by: California Transportation Commission $9 million Merced Redevelopment Agency $4.8 million City Public Facility Financing (Impact fees) $2.3 million Burlington Northern & Santa Fe RR $1.9 million In addition, the city spent another $2.4 million for improvements in the project area, including a $1.1 million water line replacement. No general fund money was used in the project and the funds could not be used to pay for personnel such as police or fire personnel. The project had a “finished” look earlier than expected when the paving schedule was moved up to October to beat the early winter storm that dumped an inch of rain on the city. Staff estimates work would have been delayed at least three to four weeks to dry everything out if the asphalt had not been laid prior to the storm’s arrival. Even after G Street is opened, additional work will need to be done, including installing an emergency generator, pouring concrete near the car wash and finish planting the 6,000 bushes and 200 trees that will decorate the project.

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