Tuesday , June 25 2024

Atwater-Merced Expressway Opens Up to Drivers, and Business Opportunities to City

A new bridge and freeway access in Atwater may open up the opportunity for growth in the city, at least that’s the hope for many in the community.
On Wednesday morning, the Atwater-Merced Expressway made it’s debut. Now, drivers on northbound 99 can take the Atwater-Merced Expressway exit or continue on to drive on the new alignment of the freeway. The Merced County Association of Governments said the southbound 99 exit and on ramp will be open by the end of the year, if not by the beginning of 2016. The Atwater-Merced Expressway is just south of the Buhach Road exit. That exit is now closed to drivers, but the overpass bridge is still open. Officials said the bridge provides a safer route for drivers to get on and off Highway 99 just south of Atwater.
Saul Lua owns Don Panchos Taco Bar and Grill in Atwater near Highway 99. He’s looking forward to the wider lanes and safer off ramps, not only for himself, but also for his customers.
"It would just be a disaster sometimes, so I would always try to avoid getting off on Buhach," said Lua. He continued, "It’s always congested, because just about any little accident, it stops the traffic a significant amount."
Stacie Dabb, the public information officer with the Merced County Association of Governments (MCAG), called the Expressway a big achievement for the community.
She said, "The access on 99 from the Buhach area was unsafe. It was in the fast lanes, people were merging on and off from the fast lane and it was pretty evident at that time from the beginning that that needed to be changed."
Dabb said the project cost $ 66 million dollars, paid for primarily by the state and tax payer dollars. But, the future of what the Expressway can do for the community, she said, is priceless.
"It’s convenient when you have amenities right off of the highway, so with this, you obviously now have the opportunities. You can see we’re surrounded by open fields here," said Dabb.
Lua said more business in his city may boost his own, and he thanks the Expressway for the opportunity.
Lua exclaimed, "Business, and it’s just gonna build a better community here in Atwater. More money, more revenue. So we’re excited."
Officials with the City of Atwater said on Wednesday that they are already in the works to build a hotel and gas station near the Expressway. Eventually, they said, they’d like to see more commercial development in the area, maybe a medical center or a sports complex.

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