Highway 99 closing for a few hours in coming nights

Traffic, already tricky here thanks to road work, is about to get even more challenging.

Highway 99 will close late Tuesday and Wednesday nights, for a few hours each time, while crews install horizontal beams for a new bridge over the freeway at Kiernan Avenue.

A railroad crossing west of the Pelandale Avenue interchange also will close, but for much longer – up to 18 months.

Drivers heading south on Highway 99 will detour around the Kiernan interchange from 11 Tuesday night until about 4 the next morning. Northbound lanes will be closed for about the same duration late Wednesday and into Thursday morning.

The bridge itself is expected to close at 10 p.m. both nights and may not reopen until 5 a.m. the next morning, between Salida Boulevard on the west and Sisk Road on the east.

The $44 million project will result in a bridge 50 feet wider, adding a lane in each direction on Kiernan. Crews already have added a storm drain pump station to carry rainwater to the nearby Stanislaus River. The new interchange should be finished by fall of 2016.

Meanwhile, work on the nearby Pelandale interchange, which is undergoing even more radical change, has brought new onramps for vehicles heading in both directions.

Drivers are adjusting to constantly moving traffic cones and barriers, except where Dakota Avenue and Murphy Road meet just west of the Union Pacific Railroad tracks. That’s where the roadway joins Salida Boulevard leading to Pelandale and the interchange. For safety reasons, traffic engineers a few weeks ago closed the railroad crossing to cars heading east because it’s very close to the new southbound onramp to Highway 99.

Too many frustrated drivers have been waiting for a break in the traffic flow and sneaking into the oncoming lane to get around the closure. That’s a head-on collision waiting to happen, fears Matt Machado, the county’s public works director.

“We tried a lot of things, including increased signage,” Machado said, “but there’s nothing to stop people from making bad decisions.”

So on Friday, road crews will put up barriers blocking everyone from using the rural crossing, which provides access to hundreds of Salida homes west of the freeway, as well as to Beckwith Road and the Wood Colony area west of Modesto. Although it’s small, officials estimate about 3,000 vehicles use the crossing daily.

The three-lane Pelandale interchange, built in 1970, eventually will be knocked down and replaced by a new overpass with double the capacity configured at a new angle. The project will cost $55 million.

For more information, see www.stancounty.com/publicworks/kh99-main.shtm and www.sr99pelandale.org.