Atwater-Merced Expressway project moves ahead; full funding still uncertain

07/23/2014 10:08 PM

07/24/2014 12:56 AM

Construction crews are continuing to make progress on the $336 million Atwater-Merced Expressway project, with most of the first phase scheduled for completion by the end of September.

Funding sources for the entire $336 million project have not been identified. Officials said they have secured $66 million, which is only enough for part of Phase 1A. The remainder of the project is estimated at $270 million.

The four-phase project replaces the dangerous Buhach Road interchange on Highway 99 and improves travel to and from Castle Commerce Center and UC Merced. The expressway ultimately will connect from Bellevue Road over Highway 99 to Highway 140, officials said.

Scheduled for full completion in spring 2016, the project will run to Highway 59 and UC Merced and will widen a section of Highway 99 to six lanes.

Roughly $7.5 million came from the Merced County Association of Governments’ Regional Transportation Impact Fee program and $11.9 million from the State Transportation Improvement Program funds. The remaining $46.5 million was funded by leftover bond money from voter-approved Proposition 1B.

Granite Construction Project Engineer Dominic Dias said a crew of eight is working on the project. A dry, hot summer has forced workers to adjust their hours, starting at 6:30 a.m. and ending around 2:30 p.m. to try to beat the heat. Dias said the project is still on track to finish on time.

“The majority of the material is here; we’re paving the roads now,” Dias said. “Everybody’s taking the right steps to move forward.”

Crews from Myers and Sons Construction are working on building some of the project’s six bridges, Dias added, with one nearing completion.

Several businesses and homes along Ashby Road were forced to move out by March and have been demolished. One of those businesses was the Atwater Veterinary Clinic.

The clinic’s business administrator, Terri Fortin, said it was the only one in Atwater and temporarily moved to Merced, sharing a building with the Merced Veterinary Clinic at 3200 G St. The move has created some confusion for clients, Fortin said.

“We get some phone calls from people saying they are there and there’s no building,” she said of the former Atwater clinic. “We were there for 40 years, and now it’s like we never even existed. It’s kind of sad, but we’re starting a new era.”

The clinic will return to Atwater in September, Fortin said, moving into a larger building on Bell Drive. The new building will be more modern, with an in-house laboratory and X-ray facility.

“People are looking very forward for us coming back to Atwater,” Fortin said. “Merced has been great to us, but we miss our Atwater community and can’t wait to get back.”

The Atwater-Merced Expressway project broke ground in August 2013, with officials applauding the efforts to overcome several challenges.

However, the project still needs continued funding to move forward.

“The interchange project will finish, and it’s got all the necessary ties in,” said MCAG Transportation Manager Matt Fell. “But any additional work on the project will depend on additional funding. If additional funding isn’t secured, nothing more will be built.”


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