The California Transportation Commission approved a $52 million bond for the Atwater-Merced Expressway during its meeting Tuesday morning, Merced County Association of Governments officials said.
The decision gives a green light to the project, which could begin ins July, according to Lori Flanders, MCAG's public information officer.
The project will replace the Highway 99 and Buhach Road interchange, aiming to improve transportation to and from the Castle Commerce Center. It also will widen a section of Highway 99 to six lanes.
The work will create an expressway to start at Highway 99, crossing Santa Fe Drive with an overpass and connecting to Castle Commerce Center with an interchange.
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The expressway also would run to Highway 59 and UC Merced.
"We are very grateful to the MCAG Governing Board, Caltrans, Commission staff and Merced County for making this project a reality," Marjie Kirn, executive director for MCAG, said in a statement. "Without their support and technical expertise, we would not be where we are today."
Flanders said the project will create a safer entrance to Highway 99 as well.
She said the bond money was leftover from the voter approved Proposition 1B, also known as the Highway Safety, Traffic Reduction, Air Quality, and Port Security Bond Act of 2006.
With Caltrans currently engaged in $252 million in transportation projects in Merced County, Flanders said the region is finally getting the attention it deserves.
"Caltrans is finally paying attention to us," she said.
In addition to other positives, improving transportation to and from Castle could stimulate business activity at the site, which politicians have long targeted as an important option for jump-starting a local economic recovery.
MCAG has contributed $7.4 million of local funds to the expressway project.
City Editor Victor A. Patton can be reached at (209) 385-2431 or firstname.lastname@example.org.