An aging bridge standing along the route to Yosemite National Park that's caused traffic delays and accidents soon will be replaced.
Built in 1931, the arc-welded steel bridge -- the Bradley Overhead -- on Highway 140 on Merced's eastern edge was the first of its kind in California. Now it's the last of its kind in California, said Carrie Bowen, District 10 director for Caltrans.
Merced has grown a lot over the decades, and the new bridge will accommodate more traffic in a safer manner, said Michele Demetras, Caltrans public information officer. The old bridge will stay in use until the new one is open.
The $22.8 million project, to be paid for with state funds administered by the Merced County Association of Governments, is expected to be completed by September 2013, she said. Any road closures will be at night.
The project will widen the viaduct to four lanes from two and will include a shoulder. It will have a bike and walking path separated from the road by a short wall, Demetras said. The side of the bridge will feature a cobblestone treatment for aesthetic purposes.
The new bridge will be higher and longer than the old one, which will create more train clearance and better line-of-sight vision for drivers, she said. Streetlights and two traffic signals will be added with the project.
Local officials, including Board of Supervisors Chairman John Pedrozo, Supervisor Hub Walsh, Merced Mayor Bill Spriggs and Mayor Pro Tem Bill Blake, were on hand for a groundbreaking ceremony Friday.
During the event, Spriggs said the project has been in the works for nearly 20 years.
"Merced is the gateway to Yosemite," he said. "This is a major gateway structure, and obviously it needs significant improvement."
Poor line of sight on the narrow bridge has been the cause of accidents, Spriggs said.
"Because it's so steep, it doesn't meet current design standards -- it's an inadequate facility," he said of the overpass, which local officials have been trying to have replaced for years.
Replacing the bridge is a critical project for improving transportation, added Walsh, who drives over the structure a couple of times a week.
Construction will start within two weeks, and work will stretch from Marthella to Santa Fe avenues.
Reporter Mike North can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 385-2453.