December 14, 2012

Highway 99 project under way

PLAINSBURG -- A $119 million project to widen a section of Highway 99 and build a new interchange near Plainsburg Road is underway in Merced County.

State, county and city officials were on-hand Friday afternoon during a groundbreaking ceremony near the site of the new interchange.

The work will improve safety and travel time, said Carrie Bowen, District 10 director for state Department of Transportation.

Highway 99 will be widened from two lanes in each direction to three lanes in each direction. Work will start near the Madera County line and end near Buchanan Hollow Road.

Out of the project's $119 million cost, $108 million came from Proposition 1B -- a $19.9 billion transportation bond voters approved in 2006. Officials expect the Plainsburg Freeway Project to generate about 1,700 jobs.

Dos Palos Mayor Johnny Mays, chairman of the Merced County Association of Governments Governing Board, said the project has been in the making for 20 years.

"We're excited that we've finally received our share of the funding and are beginning to reap the benefits for the most important north-and-south highway in the San Joaquin Valley," he said.

The project is part of Caltrans' effort to bring to fruition its Highway 99 Corridor Plan to widen the thoroughfare to six lanes from Marysville to Bakersfield, Bowen said.

Sen. Anthony Cannella, R-Ceres, said he's impressed with all the work being done on Highway 99 in Merced County.

"I can't recall the last time I drove down 99 and saw this magnitude of work -- it's incredible, and that's not even including this project," he said. "It's tremendous the transportation projects that are being done in Merced County. It's well-deserved and it's well-needed."

Cannella said he expects the project to have a positive impact on the area and noted that with more unallocated state funds available for such projects, he'd like to see more.

"I think these are great investments," he said.

Merced County Supervisor Hub Walsh said the work is a reflection of a partnership among the state, Caltrans and the Merced County Association of Governments.

"We stand here today doing things that are really going to enable our community to move quicker, improve our safety in this area and to reduce the congestion that occurs," he said.

He hopes additional funds will be made available to continue improving Highway 99.

"It's been a long time coming, but isn't it great that we have these kinds of projects, these kinds of things going on in Merced County." Walsh added.

Angela DaPrato, public information officer for Caltrans, said work on the Plainsburg Freeway Project started Tuesday and should finish in the summer of 2015.

Reporter Mike North can be reached at (209) 385-2453 or mnorth@mercedsunstar.com.

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