GUSTINE - Plans to replace an awkward turn in the Highway 33/140 corridor through Gustine with a large roundabout are moving forward.

City Council members recently took initial steps toward authorizing City Manager Doug Dunford to acquire property on behalf of the city which is needed for the project, which could break ground in little more than a year.

Without that authorization, Dunford said, a cumbersome negotiation process would be required to acquire each of the five relatively small parcels the city must acquire, some of which are only a few square feet in size.

The proposed ordinance authorizes Dunford to spend up to $50,000 on each of the properties involved, and requires him to report back at the following meeting on the property acquisition.

Council members acknowledged the need to be able to move swiftly and not bog the land-acquisition down, but also expressed reservations about granting open-ended purchasing authority.

Council member Joe Oliveira suggested that Dunford be required to consult with a council sub-committee dedicated to infrastructure before finalizing any purchases, and the remainder of the council concurred.

The council also requested language which limits the city manager’s property purchasing authority to that required for the roundabout project.

Dunford said he has been in talks with four landowners for the purchase of a total of five pieces of property.

“A lot of it is just slivers of property. We’re not talking acres, we’re talking square feet,” he commented.

The largest property which the city must acquire is the county-owned parcel which now houses the city’s corporation yard. “The county is separate from the others,” Dunford said of negotiations. “We are asking them to donate that land. That is what we are working toward.”

Dunford said the roundabout, which has been in the planning stages for several years, is close to becoming a reality.

The engineering is done, and the project is in the final stages of completing environmental work.

Dunford said he anticipates going to bid on the roundabout next spring, with construction timed to begin in the fall.

The $3 million-plus project will take six to eight months to complete, he noted, and will require closure of the Highway 33/140 turn in front of Richard’s Market - which is now an awkward three-way intersection with stop signs in two directions - for up to four months.

The council’s decision to set the traditional real estate acquisition process aside will help move the project along, Dunford said.

The ordinance will not be written into the municipal code due to its temporary nature. A second reading and final approval is required to put that purchasing authority in place. That action is expected at the Sept. 17 council meeting.