MODESTO — Crews are working on a $44 million effort to create free-flowing traffic on Kiernan Avenue on the north edge of Modesto.
The state Department of Transportation will complete the job of making Kiernan a four-lane route between Highway 99 and McHenry Avenue, part of a continuing endeavor by local and state officials to improve east-west traffic circulation in Stanislaus County. Kiernan also is known as State Route 219.
The project will widen the remaining two-lane section of Kiernan from Morrow Road east to McHenry. New traffic signals are planned at the Carver and Tully intersections, and Caltrans will add left-turn lanes at the Kiernan-McHenry intersection.
Cyclists also will have their own lane.
Caltrans officials gathered Tuesday with representatives of Stanislaus County, Modesto and the Stanislaus Council of Governments for a ceremony marking the start of construction on the two-mile stretch.
"Projects like this keep the region moving and help us build the road to economic growth," said Caltrans Director Malcolm Dougherty.
The funding for the work includes $20.2 million from the 2006 statewide transportation bond, $19.32 million from the State Transportation Improvement Program and $4.48 million in federal money.
Caltrans officials said they expect minimal traffic delays during construction. The entire length of Kiernan should be a four-lane expressway by the fall of 2015.
State and local government had to step on toes to create the wider route. In the summer, Caltrans will oversee major work in front of Stanislaus Elementary School, so that students, parents and staff can have safe access to the campus.
The changes will include safety walls, renovations to the school's east parking lot and a new lot on the west side of the campus. School traffic will be funneled into a road between the school and Kiernan.
"They have assured us that all the work that impacts the school will be done during the summer when the students are not there," said Sandy Putnam, chief business official for the Stanislaus Union School District.
Access to the school is "not going to be as easy as it is now," Putnam said. "Caltrans is doing what they can to protect the school."
Stanislaus Elementary will lose a beloved redwood tree. By agreement, the school will keep a section of the redwood; students will help decide whether the wood is made into benches or other items.
In addition to the roadway expansion, crews are expected to begin a major remake of the Kiernan Avenue and Highway 99 interchange in May.
Local transportation officials made Kiernan a workhorse for east-west traffic circulation with a decision in December to nix the western piece of the North County Corridor. The proposed segment with a tie-in to the Highway 99-Hammett Road interchange would have cut across farmland and it stirred opposition from landowners.
Once the Kiernan route is finished, the eastern segment of the corridor is still years away. Within a month, officials should have good traffic projections for sizing the next segment, which would run east from McHenry to link with Highway 108 east of Oakdale.
County Public Works Director Matt Machado said the route would be parallel with Claribel Avenue until Claus Road and then turn northeast toward 108.
Construction is supposed to start at Highway 108 east of Oakdale in 2020, and then move west to McHenry. Motorists could start merging onto the route in 2022.
Bee staff writer Ken Carlson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2321.