One last major traffic-pattern change is coming up this weekend for drivers who are weary of negotiating construction on westbound Highway 180 through central Fresno.
Starting at midnight Friday, crews working on the Highway 180 "braided ramps" project will shut down the highway's westbound lanes through the interchanges of highways 168 and 41. When the highway reopens late Saturday afternoon, all the westbound lanes and ramps will finally take the shape of the ultimate traffic pattern after about 11/2 years of construction.
The work will not affect the eastbound lanes of Highway 180.
"There's a lot of closures going up Friday night," said Pat Hinterberger, assistant project manager for contractor R&L Brosamer Inc. Not only will the highway be closed at the Chestnut Avenue off-ramp, the on-ramps from Chestnut and Cedar avenues to Highway 180 west will be closed, as well as the Highway 168 connector ramp to westbound Highway 180. The McKinley Avenue on-ramp to Highway 168 west (heading south toward Highway 180) will also be closed.
Hinterberger said that one lane of Highway 180 west will reopen at noon Saturday; the rest of the lanes and ramps will be shut down until 5 p.m. "At that point we're going to reopen everything, which is actually going to be the final configuration for the project," he said.
Some minor tinkering will continue into the spring on details such as lane striping and other finishing touches. But for the thousands of commuters who pass through the area daily, the new traffic pattern will mark an end to the white-knuckle, crisscross merging that plagued the interchange for more than a dozen years, as well as seemingly endless lane changes throughout the construction stages that began in the summer of 2012.
With the new braided ramps, drivers who want to exit Highway 180 to Highway 41 will no longer have to contend with drivers coming from Highway 168. Instead, they will have their own ramp under a bridge that carries traffic from Highway 168 onto westbound Highway 180.
And drivers heading west from Highway 168 to Highway 41 will have their own dedicated lanes without having to bother with the main lanes of Highway 180.
For motorists, slowing down and paying attention to road signs will be keys to navigating the new lanes without incident when the weekday commute arrives Monday morning.
"The way that everybody's going to learn this is, we have to slow down and understand the pattern," CHP Capt. Dave Paris said. "You'll grow with it and, the next thing you know, it's just like old hat."
It will be several more weeks before similar relief is available to drivers on eastbound Highway 180 through the interchange, Hinterberger said.
For years after it opened more than a dozen years ago, the 1.4-mile stretch of Highway 180 was notorious with drivers who jockeyed for position to merge onto and off of highways 41 and 168 and Cedar and Chestnut avenues. The California Department of Transportation reported that there were nearly 10% more accidents on that portion of pavement than the state average. A Caltrans traffic study in 2010 documented nearly 240 accidents over a three-year period -- or about one accident every 4 1/2 days on both the eastbound and westbound lanes of the highway.
Since construction began, Caltrans and R&L Brosamer have issued nearly 60 commuter alerts to warn drivers of lane and ramp closures associated with the work. The construction on Highway 180 and its connections with highways 41 and 168 are part of the $49 million project. About $6 million is coming from Measure C, Fresno County's half-cent sales tax for local transportation improvements.
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