It’s been decades since a new bridge has been constructed over the Tuolumne River in a growing Stanislaus County.  But county officials are proceeding with plans to build a new two-lane bridge to connect Faith Home Road east of Ceres to Garner Road in the Beard Industrial Tract and are now accepting comments on the Draft Initial Study.

The 430-page document is available for public review at www.stancounty.com/publicworks/pdf/projects/faith-home-road/draft_environmental_document.pdf

A new bridge over the Tuolumne River linking Faith Home Road and Garner Road in Modesto will do much to alleviate traffic congestion in Ceres.

The project is in the draft stages and an environmental review but one of the biggest obstacles is finding the estimated $72 million to build the project. A connection stretching from Garner Road to Highway 99 will cost millions more. “This project has been in the works for a long time,” said Chris Brady of the county Public Works Department and the project manager. He said it is vital for the movement of goods and commuters in the region.

Construction could start as early as 2023 and take two years to complete.

The connection northeast of Ceres would alleviate congestion on Mitchell Road and the Mitchell Road Bridge which carries about 80,000 vehicles each day. The proposed bridge has been considered a high priority of the county for at least 25 years and was listed as a Priority 1 project in the Stanislaus Area Association of Governments 1990 Expressway Study. The expressway would provide a key link to the east sides of Ceres and Modesto and provide a direct link to Riverbank and Oakdale to southbound Highway 99. The bridge would also help commuters who live in northeast Modesto who work in Turlock, and vice versa.

“This project – a new bridge over the Tuolumne River – is supposed to kind of close the gap between SR 132 at the north end to SR 99 to the south,” said Engineer Craig Chatelain of TYLin International. “We want to improve circulation within Stanislaus County as well as the cities of Modesto and Ceres by having another bridge to cross the Tuolumne River.”

The bridge would help truck deliveries coming and going from the Beard Industrial Tract in Modesto by directing it onto Faith Home Road, said Chatelain. In discussions later he said Ceres could force trucks to use Faith Home Road by restricting Mitchell Road truck traffic.

Mitchell and Hatch is already operating at a service level of E, which is close to an F, or failure.

“We want to improve that. This bridge project, filling this gap and creating another river crossing will certainly help that traffic at Mitchell.”

In January 2017 county supervisors awarded a $1.5 million contract to TY Lin International of Sacramento to conduct the environmental study for the project. The firm also conducted preliminary engineering of the project, which includes traffic signals at Faith Home and Hatch roads and at Garner and Finch roads.

When the city updated its General Plan in May 2019, Ceres officials downsized plans for Faith Home Road from a future six-lane expressway to a four-lane.

Complicating the design and cost is the need to keep the new passage above the 200-year flood plain. Chatelain said the new bridge would be safe from flooding unlike the times the northern end of the Mitchell Road Bridge near the airport has flooded in extremely wet years.

“If we’re going to spend money to build a new bridge, the county was adamant that it achieves a higher level so we have an all-weather route,” he said. “If Mitchell were to be closed, this road can stay open.”

To align Garner and Faith Home, the connection would have a slight realignment along the farming fields between the bluff south of Finch Road and the river. The current railroad track owned by the Modesto & Empire Traction (MET) Company near Finch Road would be moved southward so that the extension of Garner Road could dip under before flying back up over the flood plain.

An earthen peninsula berm will be constructed into the flood plain toward the river for the new road before it reaches the bridge. Beard has offered to donate most of the 160,000 cubic yards of dirt needed to form the earthen berm. The total length of the new bridge and floodplain structures is 1,823 feet and is composed of the 861-foot-long main bridge frame, 450-foot-long causeway box girder bridge, and a 512-footlong causeway slab bridge. To achieve an economical 210-foot length of the three center spans, a haunched soffit (arch like shape along the bottom of the bridge) would be utilized to reduce the structure depth at mid-span and minimize loads on the supporting piers. The bridge would initially be sized for two lanes with eight-foot shoulders and a center concrete barrier to prevent head-on crashes.

All causeway bridge foundations would be outside the main river channel and would utilize pile foundations using permanent or temporary casings. No cofferdams would be required, but pile casings for the causeway box girder frame near the river may require de-watering during construction.

The intersections at the terminal end at Garner Road would be constructed as four-lane intersections for future expansion although initially it will be only two lanes. On the southern terminus, the intersection of Faith Home and Hatch roads would have to be shifted to the east to realign with the bridge.

The public can get more information and watch a video simulation of the bridge online at www.faithhomeroad.com.