Applegate overpass in Merced County reopens after major crash damaged bridge

Local businesses that experienced a sharp drop in sales were pleased when the Applegate Road bridge over Highway 99 reopened to traffic on Sunday, more than five weeks after a truck’s cargo slammed into it and caused structural damage.

The collision shut down the overpass, which is a crucial bridge connecting residents to the north and northbound highway travelers to the sprawling shopping center south of the highway. A detour route was set up through Atwater Boulevard and Commerce Avenue.

“I’m so happy it’s open before the holidays,” said Kamal Dhaliwal, owner of the Arco gas station.

Dhaliwal said her daily sales went down 30 percent during the bridge closure. But other businesses in the area were hit with 50 to 70 percent drops in sales, she said.

“It was very frustrating for the local businesses and residents,” California Highway Patrol Merced Officer Eric Zuniga said.

A 2013 Kenworth big rig towing an excavator on a flatbed trailer was traveling north on Highway 99 at about 6:40 a.m., Oct. 11, when the excavator’s boom arm struck the underside of the bridge, according to CHP.

It wasn’t the first time the Applegate bridge was hit, Zuniga said. But the damage from the Oct. 11 collision was enough to compromise the structural integrity of the bridge.

The driver, 34-year-old Atwater resident Charles McMahan, received two citations and was found to have loaded the excavator incorrectly, officers said.

Caltrans started reconstruction of a damaged girder on the bridge on Oct. 27, according to the transportation agency.

The total cost of the repairs wasn’t known Monday, Caltrans public information officer Skip Allum said in an email.

“Caltrans is moving forward to pursue reimbursement from the responsible party’s insurance company,” he said.

Vikaas Shanker is an award-winning reporter covering education, crime and courts for the Merced Sun-Star and Los Banos Enterprise. After growing up in Naperville, Illinois and graduating from the University of Kansas, he reported in several Chicago suburbs before moving to Merced County in 2016.