Austen Thibault, The Union Democrat

The East Sonora Bypass is now open to traffic

Caltrans hosted a ribbon-cutting ceremony at 1 p.m. Friday, after which the bypass was accessible to a long line of waiting motorists.

Longtime Sonora City Councilman Ron Stearn was the first to travel the new road, with Caltrans Director Malcolm Dougherty as his passenger.

The bypass now constitutes Highway 108 for that portion of roadway from Peaceful Oak Road to Via Este Road.

It towers up to 110 feet over the former highway, which now becomes part of Mono Way.

Favorable weather allowed Caltrans crews to finish the bypass eight months ahead of schedule.

City and county officials, state government representatives and Caltrans administrators spoke at the event, which drew a crowd of about 100.

Caltrans Director Malcolm Dougherty congratulated crews on their ahead-of-schedule completion, including contractors Teichert and MCM Construction.

"The new expressway will be safer and save motorists time while reducing fuel costs," Dougherty said.

Dougherty also noted the importance of this highway as a historic route for miners getting to the Central Valley.

A representative of State Sen. Tom Berryhill gave a "special presentation" to Stearn, commending him for 49 years of service to the City of Sonora.

Stearn, speaking to the crowd, joked about his age and recalled that the first Highway 108 bypass for the area opened in 1987.

Stearn also got the honor of cutting the ribbon before driving across, followed by drivers from the Sonora Model A Club, Sonora Antiques Club and patrons of The Junction shopping center's "Cruise Night" - all in classic cars.

A representative of State Assemblyman Frank Bigelow gave congratulatory certificates to Caltrans and the Tuolumne County Transportation Council. He said he also should have brought one for the county Board of Supervisors and that he would send them one.

The $54 million project was funded through multiple sources - $17 million coming from Tuolumne County.

State transportation funds covered $22 million and $15 million came from Proposition 1B, passed by voters in 2006 for additional transportation funding.

Additional work must still be done on ramps, traffic lights and the Peaceful Oak Interchange.

Construction on this part of the bypass, Phase II, began on May 1, 2012.

Phase I of the East Sonora Bypass - from Sanguinetti Road to Peaceful Oak Road - was completed in 2002.

No plan has been announced for the final phase of the bypass, proposed to take traffic up to the four-lane stretch of highway near Soulsbyville.

More than 22,000 vehicles pass along Highway 108 on the existing bypass every day, according to state traffic data. Numbers near 25,000 in peak summer months.

The East Sonora section was the second-heaviest traveled section of Highway 108 - the busiest being in Modesto - according to state traffic statistics from 2011.