Construction kicked off this month on a planned $2.1 million expansion of an autonomous vehicle research and testing site at at Castle Commerce Center. The new expansion will allow vehicle manufacturers, suppliers and innovators to utilize test areas that mimic real-world highway, rural and urban landscapes, according to a Merced County news release.
County officials have touted Castle’s proximity to Silicon Valley and expansive open space as a boon for tech companies like Google that have used the facility to test self-driving vehicles for some years. “This site embodies the future of transportation, and these technology developments are taking place right in our backyards,” Merced County Supervisor Daron McDaniel, whose district encompasses Castle Commerce Center, said in the release. “This project represents real-time job growth and economic development, with enormous potential as it continues to grow.”
Formerly called the California AutoTech Testing and Development Center, the 225-acre site has been renamed to TRC California for Transportation Research Center Inc., for the Ohio-based corporation that assumed facility operations earlier this year. A long-term goal for county officials was to pass facility management to a private third party expert that would take operations to the cutting edge of the developing autonomous vehicle industry. TRC is a leader in automotive testing and innovation that has led the facility’s design improvements, according to the release. “We are building out TRC California to offer a comprehensive, one-stop shop where automotive technology and mobility innovators can test and affirm the performance, safety, quality and competitiveness of new technologies that are changing the face of transportation worldwide,” Brett Roubinek, president and CEO of TRC Inc., said in the release. “TRC is proud to partner with Merced County in this transformation.”
A 2 mile high-speed test track is the subject of the current construction phase by Central Valley-based Avision Construction. Installation of privacy fencing along the perimeter, vehicle barriers and security improvements for confidentiality purposes are also in progress. Work on this protect phase is anticipated to wrap up by Nov. 1. Central Valley-based Precision Civil Engineering is overseeing project engineering and construction management. “We are excited to begin this dramatic new chapter in Merced County’s progress as a focal point for testing and research by the West Coast’s technology-based industries, start-ups and independent innovators,” Mark Hendrickson, Merced County Director of Community and Economic Development, said in the release. “Advances developed here at TRC California will help make transportation safer, more efficient and more environmentally responsible.”
Construction will temporarily impact portions of the facility while other areas remain open for testing, the release said. Also being worked on is a control building and workshop, as well as installation of test equipment. The total project budget is $6.5 million being paid for via funding secured by Assemblyman Adam Gray, D-Merced, through the California State Transportation Agency. TRC California has already attracted a number of companies that are actively testing at the facility. Facilities and staffing will keep expanding, including the addition of more roadway complexes, road surfaces and intersections all designed for testing advanced transportation technologies, the release said.