Bypass may be open by Nov. 1

Chris Caskey, The Union Democrat

The East Sonora Bypass extension is moving along significantly faster than expected, and both state and local representatives say it may be open to traffic as early as next month.

Darin Grossi, director of the Tuolumne County Transportation Council, said on Wednesday that a ribbon cutting and opening of the new Highway 108 thoroughfare could take place on Nov. 1 if progress continues as it is.

California Department of Transportation spokeswoman Angela DaPrato confirmed the news late Wednesday, but said it is still tentative and dependent on weather in the coming weeks.

"It looks like right now the weather is going to be really dry," DaPrato said. "Crews have been working really well. … Everything is going really smooth right now."

According to Caltrans, which is building the bypass, dry weather since the $53 million bypass project started in May 2012 has helped speed its progress with crews working later last season and earlier this season than a typical construction project.

Grossi told the Transportation Council Board of Directors on Wednesday that finishing Nov. 1 would put this phase of the project six months ahead of schedule, as it was supposed to finish in April.

Other estimates had crews wrapping up as late as July.

"We're very excited about that," Grossi said. "It's way ahead of schedule, and I really think that's a good thing."

This phase, when complete, will be a two-lane highway which will run from Peaceful Oak Road to Via Este Road. It will also include a partial interchange at Peaceful Oak, a grade separation at Mono Way and a frontage road. The bypass extension will have two elevated stretches, rising 100 to 110 feet above Mono Way and 50 to 60 feet above Peaceful Oak.

According to state traffic data, an average of 22,300 vehicles pass along Highway 108 on the existing bypass every day. During peak summer months, that average goes up to about 24,600.

The stretch passing through East Sonora is the heaviest travelled section of Highway 108 outside of the busiest part in Modesto, which includes McHenry Boulevard, according to state traffic statistics from 2011.

When it is complete, as much as 6,500 cubic yards of concrete will be used for two miles of highway, 1,049 feet of bridges and 2,500 feet of frontage road at Gold Queen and Argyle roads. Between 40 and 50 Caltrans employees and contract workers will work at different times. The project was contracted last year to Teichert/MCM Construction.

It is the second of three phases that transportation officials say will eventually make up a freeway running from Sanguinetti Road in Sonora to the four-lane stretch at Soulsbyville. The state announced in 2006 that Phase 2 was fully funded and set for construction to run from 2010 through 2012.

However, state funding issues stalled the project before officials were able to find available funds from multiple sources.

Money was secured through the Proposition 1B-created Corridor Mobility Improvement Account and a 2006 voter-approved transportation bond measure. But not before a few cutbacks led to a redesign, with the updated plan excluding two entrance and exit ramps. State and local planners have said they will try to find funding to add those ramps after the second phase.

No funding source or timeline has been identified so far for the project's third phase.

The Union Democrat
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