G Street underpass to open in Merced

MERCED, Calif.

Drivers in Merced have been anxiously waiting for this G Street underpass to be complete. Officials say it will greatly improve traffic flow and public safety.

Workers are putting the finishing touches on the G Street railroad underpass ahead of Saturday's long-awaited opening. Crews have spent the past year and a half installing a new train bridge, digging out thousands of truckloads of dirt, constructing a massive storm water drain system, and even adding locally made artwork. During that time, drivers have had to take detours through nearby neighborhoods.

"Just going to work everyday it takes an extra 15 minutes just to get there, so I have to plan around that," said Meagan Smith of Merced.

It's been even more difficult for businesses in the area.

"We've lost over half of our business. All we have is our regular customers now. All our drive-by customers haven't been coming in. Cause we haven't had any traffic as you can see. Normally it's non-stop," said Eddie Stamp with All Smog Express.

City officials say the project had to be done. The need first became clear 80 years ago, in 1931, when a train hit a school bus here, killing seven Merced children. And it became even more dangerous as the population grew.

"Basically when the trains come by dozens each day, all the traffic stops from the north south, including emergency vehicles," said Merced City Engineer Daryl Jordan.

Fire Chief Michael McLaughlin says that time is crucial when heading to a fire or medical call. "Somebody who's not breathing 2 or 3 minutes is will decide whether they're going to survive or not. Getting caught behind a train could have huge implications."

But now the entire city is ready to celebrate the completion of this $18-million project.

The city will hold a formal dedication ceremony for the new underpass Saturday at noon. The road will be open at 11 a.m. for pedestrians so they can see the art and architecture before it's filled with cars.

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