"It's going to eliminate the on and off ramps that are in the fast lane, which has been a major safety concern for many years. I grew up in Atwater, and I remember my dad being terrified when I was 16 and driving that route." said Lori Flanders with Merced County Assoc. Governments.
The project has been a priority for the Merced County association of governments for nearly 20 years, and phase one is now underway thanks to about $50 million from a transportation bond voters approved in 2006. The remaining phases still need funding.
"The ultimate goal of the project is part of a regional loop system that will eventually connect highway 99 to the castle commerce center, UC Merced, all the way back to Campus Parkway," Flanders said.
The work will require the demolition of some homes and businesses on Ashby Road in the coming months. Sundown RV is planning to move two blocks down from its current location.
"It's something better for the community. It's just kind of hard on us having to move and relocate and all that, it's tough," Sundown RV Owner Juan Garcia said.
Atwater veterinary clinic will also have to move out of the spot it's had since 1973. The owners are building a new state of the art facility on Bell Drive near the Atwater CHP office. It won't be ready until June though, and staff members have to move out of their current space in April, so they're planning to work out of this office in Merced temporarily.
"They didn't quite give us enough time to get everything set and rolling, so it's been really hard getting plans through, ideas, the loan, it's quite a process," said Terri Fortin Atwater Veterinary Clinic.
But the expressway is also expected to bring new businesses to the area. A more than 200 acre development with both a retail and medical complex is currently being planned near the project.
MCAG said phase one of the project is expected to be complete by February of 2016.