The city provided a progress report Thursday on its $54.76 million project to replace the congested, outdated Pelandale Avenue interchange at Highway 99 with one that can handle twice as many cars and provide Modesto with an attractive gateway into the city.
Acting Public Works Director Bill Sandhu said this is the biggest transportation project in city history. Construction workers have been on the job since mid-May and are making excellent progress, he said. Though the project in north Modesto is not expected to wrap up until early 2017, Sandhu said the new overpass should open next summer.
He and other city officials provided a tour and update of the project for several City Council members.
The new six-lane interchange with new on- and offramps is long overdue, Sandhu said. The existing three-lane interchange was built in 1970, when Modesto had about 60,000 residents. The city now has more than 200,000 residents.
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But the construction work has created headaches for motorists because of the road closures and detours. Sandhu said Modesto is trying to minimize the inconvenience to drivers and nearby businesses through such measures as coordinating the work with Stanislaus County’s nearby project to upgrade the Kiernan Avenue-Highway 99 interchange.
“We’ve just started avoiding the whole area,” said Salida resident Melissa Calisher as she stopped for gas Thursday at the AM-PM mini-mart on Salida Boulevard. But she acknowledged traffic already was bad before the construction work started and she and her family are looking forward to the opening of the new interchange.
The interchange is in the heart of a major retail and shopping hub, with big-box retailers, fast-food restaurants, a supermarket and other stores. The project has hurt two of those businesses.
Carl’s Jr. District Manager Emilio Hernandez said sales are down 25 percent at the Sisk Road Carl’s Jr. “It’s been a big mess and customers are complaining,” he said.
Gas sales have fallen 50 percent and convenience store sales by 30 percent at the AM-PM on Salida Boulevard, said owner Joga Minhas. “It has had an impact,” he said.
Sandhu said he was aware only of Carl’s Jr. being hurt by the project. But he said traffic needs to flow better, so within a couple of weeks, the city will reopen the traffic lanes it closed on Pelandale Avenue and Sisk Road and remove the concrete barrier where drivers turn right from Pelandale onto Sisk. He said these steps should help drivers and the Carl’s Jr., which is near Pelandale and Sisk.
Sandhu said those lane closures and the barrier will come back early next year after the crush of the holiday shopping season. He added the project’s schedule is being adjusted to accommodate the reopening of those lanes and the removal of the barrier.
Modesto officials say the interchange will help the city make a good first impression. It’s the first exit where southbound motorists can leave the highway and enter the city. The interchange has been designed with that in mind and includes landscaping and what is called a monument sign, welcoming visitors.
The project is being funded through $45.4 million from the state, $2.65 million from the federal government, $147,000 in fees the county collected to offset the effects of new development and $6.56 million from the city, with nearly all of that from fees collected for new development.