The state budget impasse could delay reconstruction of Ceres' Whitmore Avenue interchange with Highway 99, California Department of Transportation officials warned Wednesday.
Although improvements are about 82 percent done, the partisan budget mess in Sacramento could deplete cash needed to keep that and dozens of other projects going, officials said.
If the state can't pay road workers, traffic could continue to slow in temporarily narrow freeway lanes, causing costly backups. Also, a nearby gas station and Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant are suffering from limited access, said Glenn Gebhardt, Ceres' director of public works and engineering.
"If it's put on hold, it would be really ugly," said Gebhardt, whose office is briefed weekly by Caltrans on interchange progress.
Workers have yet to build one of two overpasses for the project, which will boost to four the number of lanes over the freeway. Permanent traffic signals have not been installed, Gebhardt said Thursday.
Also vulnerable are a Highway 99 bridge replacement in Merced that recently got under way, as well as a Route 4 renovation and the replacement of broken slabs on Interstate 5, both in San Joaquin County.
Legislators are charged by the California Constitution with approving a state budget by July 1, but they are 43 days late, with no resolution in sight.
Transportation leaders, meeting Wednesday and today, won't approve $977 million for new projects with $2.4 billion in projects already on hold, the release says. The department's ongoing projects, valued at $9.5 billion, also are at risk, the release says.
"We could probably end these budget problems if we quit paying the legislators' salaries till they get a budget passed," said Stanislaus County Supervisor Jim DeMartini, who represents the Ceres area. "But they make the rules, so they'll probably never go for that."
Bee staff writer Garth Stapley can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2390.