After nearly two decades and millions of dollars spent, Tuolumne County supervisors unanimously approved a project on Tuesday to replace the one-lane bridge on Rawhide Road that crosses Woods Creek in Jamestown.

The decision will allow county staff to move forward with securing the right-of-way needed to complete the project, most of which is eligible for reimbursement from the Federal Highway Administration.

Construction is anticipated to begin in spring 2021 and will involve a realignment of Rawhide Road with Highway 108.

Work on the project dates back to 2002 after former County Supervisor Dick Pland presented a petition with more than 600 signatures from people asking the county do something about the bridge due to unsafe conditions.

“I’m glad you’re finally getting it done,” said John Moyle, a longtime resident of Jamestown. “Get it built.”

The bridge is notorious for causing traffic to back up along the road during peak times, which has increased significantly since it was constructed in 1920.

There have been multiple studies conducted in relation to the project since 2004, including one in 2012 that determined a traffic signal was needed at Fifth Avenue and Highway 108.

A traffic signal was recently installed at the intersection as part of project that cost $3.4 million, much of which came from traffic mitigation fees collected by the county.

Most of the funding for the Rawhide Road bridge replacement will come from the federal Highway Bridge Program.

The board also approved a mitigated negative declaration for the project, which means that any potential impacts on the environment can be reduced to less than significant, but not everyone was pleased with the results.

Dave Scheller said the impact on his car wash and two other businesses on Jamestown Road was not taken into consideration when it came to installing the traffic signal at Fifth Avenue and Highway 108, which blocked eastbound traffic on Highway 108 from making a left turn onto Jamestown Road.

Scheller said talk about replacing Rawhide Road for the past 15-plus years has made it difficult for him and others in the area to sell their property because no one was certain how the project was going to affect them.

“It’s put a huge cloud over the people that own this property on their ability to either sell the property or (refinance) the property,” he said.

In 2016, Scheller attended a public meeting about the project and talked about the possibility of a lawsuit delaying the project and causing the loss of federal funding. He offered to go away if the county bought his property.

Scheller said on Tuesday that county staff hasn’t kept him in the loop about progress on the project despite giving him assurances they would do so, though some of the people he previously spoke to have since retired.

County Supervisor Karl Rodefer acknowledged there have been some “missteps” along the way and missed a couple of monthly progress updates, but believes that county staff has done a pretty good job at keeping the public informed.

Associate Engineer Blossom Scott-Heim said county staff would reach out to Scheller during the design phase for the project about his suggestion for putting signage along Highway 108 directing people how to get on Jamestown Road as a way to minimize the impact on businesses there.

Nearly $3 million has been spent so far on the bridge replacement for studies alone.

Contact Alex MacLean at amaclean@uniondemocrat.com or (209) 588-4530.

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