Atwater-Merced Expressway about 15 percent complete

The $55 million Atwater-Merced Expressway project is making considerable progress, officials said Friday, describing the giant construction project as about 15 percent done.

Long anticipated, the project will replace a dangerous interchange on Highway 99 and improve travel to and from Castle Commerce Center and UC Merced.

The four-phase project ultimately will connect from Bellevue Road over Highway 99 to Highway 140. The expressway will run to Highway 59 and UC Merced, officials said, and widen a section of Highway 99 to six lanes.

“We’re making good progress every day,” said Dominic Dias, project engineer for Granite Construction. “We’ve brought in the majority of the dirt we need, so there’s no more trucks hauling dirt from landfill.”

Dias said construction crews are working on spreading the dirt and leveling it. The project will eventually require building six bridges and paving several roads. “There’s still a lot of work that needs to be done,” Dias said. “We’ll start bringing in rock and asphalt within the next couple months.”

About 14 workers from Granite spend five days a week working on the project, Dias said, which has moved slightly ahead of schedule thanks to the warm weather. “We’re ahead of the weather,” Dias said. “Typically this time of the year, it would be raining and no one would be working, but the weather has been on our side. The project is progressing better than we thought it would.”

Lori Flanders, Merced County Association of Governments spokeswoman, said the cost of the first phase of the project is $55 million, with $7 million coming from local MCAG funds.

The remaining $48 million was funded by leftover bond money from voter-approved Proposition 1B.

The project broke ground in August, with officials applauding the efforts to overcome several challenges, including securing enough money to move the project forward.

“When I first came on board, I was told that it would never happen in my lifetime,” Merced County District 3 Supervisor Linn Davis said. “There were quite a few challenges, but we kept pushing forward.”

The entire project is set for completion in February 2016; phase one should be done by April of this year.