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Expansion of Atwater’s High-Tech Auto Research Center Begins



Construction begins at the Castle Commerce Center's automotive research facility. (Merced County)
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A $2.1 million expansion at the automotive research and testing facility in Atwater’s Castle Commerce Center is underway.

And, Merced County officials say the expansion embodies the future of automotive transportation.

Operations and design improvements for the “California AutoTech Testing and Development Center” were taken over on May 1, by Ohio-based TRC Inc. The company focuses on automotive testing and innovation.

The 225-acre site has been renamed “TRC California” and is expected to be completed by Nov. 1.

Central Valley-based Precision Civil Engineering is providing engineering and construction management for the project.

How Did the Project Come About?

The partnership between Merced County and TRC Inc. will focus on autonomous vehicle technologies and electrification with the goal to practice automotive testing in a safe and secure environment.

Mark Hendrickson, Merced County’s director of community and economic development, stated that the advances developed at TRC California would help make transportation safer, more efficient, and more environmentally responsible.

“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,” said Hendrickson.

The expansion will cost about $2.1 million with additional “soft costs” for the facility amounting to a total of $6.5 million. Assemblyman Adam Gray (D-Merced) assembled the funding through the California State Transportation Agency.

“I fought to secure $6.5 million in the state budget for Castle because Atwater has all of the right ingredients to become a major testing, development, and proving ground for the next generation of autonomous vehicles,” said Gray.

Valley Companies Seek Facility Use

Several companies already actively testing and using the facility, officials said.

“With significant manufacturer interest already apparent, Castle is realizing the dream of repurposing elements of the former Air Force base by leveraging public and private investment to spur job creation,” said Gray.

A full-time proving ground director and operations manager have been appointed to assist clients with their engineering and technical needs.

Merced County spokesman Mike North said there are about 80 leases at Castle with a mix of large and small businesses. Among the companies: Waymo, TRC, UC Merced, and Mackey & Sons.

“Seven companies will be able to test at one time within the TRC footprint,” said North.

Testing Equipment Will Feature a 2.2-mile High-Speed Test Track

Vehicle manufacturers, suppliers, and innovators will all be able to take advantage of a variety of testing areas recreating real-world highway, rural and urban scenarios.

Under a contract awarded to Central Valley-based Avision Construction, the project will include building TRC California’s 2.2-mile high-speed test track and private fencing around the perimeter.

Other activities on the site will include work on a control building, a workshop, installation of test equipment and additional roadway complexes, road surfaces, and intersections designed to test advanced transportation technologies, including driver-assistance systems.

In addition, the site will also include assembly and placement of vehicle barriers, modification of pavement markers, and improvements to onsite infrastructure to secure the safety, privacy, and security capabilities of the testing facility.

Some portions of the facility will remain closed as construction takes place while other areas will remain open.

An architectural rendering of the expansion. (Merced County)

About Castle Commerce Center

The multi-modal facility in Atwater totals 1,912 acres and hosts dozens of businesses.

The facility was built in 1941 and was an Air Force base until closing in 1995.

Since its closure, the facility has been owned and operated by Merced County. In addition to TRC California, it houses Castle Airport featuring an 11,800′ runway, an AT&T call center, a flight training facility, and a lumber company.

Liz Juarez joined GV Wire in July, 2021 as a Digital News Producer. She has experience working for publications around the Central Valley including the Clovis Roundup, Porterville Recorder and Hanford Sentinel. While in college, she interned for Mountain West Athletics and served as Outreach Chair for the Fresno State Radio and Television Digital News Association (RTDNA). Liz earned a bachelor's degree in Media Communications and Journalism at Fresno State and a master's degree in Communications from Arizona State University. In her down time, she enjoys reading, drawing and staying active by playing basketball, taking trips to the coast and visiting national parks. You can contact Liz at liz.juarez@gvwire.com

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