CERES -- Motorists going south on Highway 99 during the early morning hours Friday might have to take a detour at Hatch Road because of the Whitmore Avenue interchange project.
Make similar plans if you are headed north on 99 after midnight July 2-3.
The state Department of Transportation is closing one of the main freeway routes in the San Joaquin Valley as work progresses on the $18 million project to replace the Highway 99-Whitmore Avenue interchange.
The midnight to 5 a.m. closures -- requiring thousands of vehicles to be detoured onto Ceres streets -- are allowing a contractor to install framing needed to pour the concrete for the new overcrossing.
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The first closure was this morning so the framing could be put over the southbound lanes. Caltrans plans to repeat the closure from midnight to 5 a.m. Friday if more work is required.
Another early morning closure is planned next week so workers can place the framing over the northbound lanes. The detour route for that closure has not been released.
"They will be closing the highway several times in the next 18 months," said Ceres City Engineer Glenn Gebhardt. "Caltrans and the Highway Patrol are hoping to learn from these first closures to make sure it goes well for future closures."
In September, work began to replace the two-lane Whitmore overcrossing with a four-lane structure. The project entails rebuilding the exits and approaches to the interchange so it's easier for drivers to get on and off the freeway in Ceres. The project should be completed in late 2010 or spring of 2011.
More freeway closures will be required to take down the framing and demolish the old overcrossing, Gebhardt said.
If more work is required Friday morning, officials also will close Hatch Road and Whitmore Avenue across Highway 99, except for emergency vehicles, from midnight to 5 a.m. The road closures are needed to keep city traffic from interfering with the detour.
Bee staff writer Ken Carlson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2321.