Largest road project in Merced history, G St. underpass, to open Saturday

The largest road project in the city of Merced's history will be dedicated and opened to the public Saturday with an open house at 10:30 a.m. and a dedication at noon.

The project closes tragic chapter of Merced history. At that site in 1931 a bus filled with Fremont School students was hit by a train, killing seven. One of the survivors of that fatal crash, Jess Gaines, will be at the dedication and Sarah Lim from the Courthouse Museum will share the history of that fateful day during the dedication.

During the open house the public can tour the underpass project, view the artwork decorating the walls. Artists Kristan Robinson and Monika Modest will be at the underpass to discuss their works. City staff will also be available to discuss the surveillance cameras that protect the art, and other features, from vandals.

G Street has been closed to through traffic at the tracks for the last 18 months, disrupting neighborhoods, affecting local businesses and making it difficult for parents to find their way to UC Merced.

Tony Ramos of Merced will be the first member of the public to drive through the underpass when he drives Mayor Bill Spriggs and former Mayor Ellie Wooten through a banner to dedicate the project.

The $18 million project is the first underpass in the city, and will go below the Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railroad tracks. The new underpass allows drivers to travel between North and Central Merced without having to stop for trains. The only other rail crossing is the Bradley Overpass, which gets closed during icy weather in the winter. It is in the process of being reconstructed. The next closest overpass is 10 miles away.

The underpass will help reduce greenhouse gases by eliminating vehicles having to idle while waiting for trains. With more than 40 trains on the tracks daily, there were days when public safety vehicles spent a total of two hours or more waiting to cross, according to a news release from the city.

The underpass required the complete reconstruction of the railroad crossing, the installation of 45 pilings to hold the bridge and the construction of a massive storm water drainage system. In addition, the project involved rerouting sewer and water lines, along with moving natural gas lines and power poles.

Staff and contractors will be on hand during the open house to show the huge storm water pumps that would drain the underpass in case of a heavy rain, explain the network of pipes buried below the asphalt and the electrical system that provides all the power.

The $18 million project is funded by: California Transportation Commission $9 millionMerced Redevelopment Agency $4.8 millionCity Public Facility Financing (Impact fees) $2.3 million Burlington Northern & Santa Fe RR $1.9 million

The City also spent another $2.4 million for improvements in the project area, including a $1.1 million water line replacement. No general fund money was used in the project and the funds could not be used to pay for personnel such as police or fire personnel.

Even after G Street is opened to traffic, additional work will need to be done including installing an emergency generator, pouring concrete near the car wash and finish planting the 6,000 bushes and 200 trees that will decorate the project.

The project had a "finished" look earlier than expected when the paving schedule was moved up to October to beat the early winter storm that dumped an inch of rain on the city. Staff estimates work would have been delayed at least three to four weeks to dry everything out if the asphalt had not been laid before the storm’s arrival.