Thirty-five years after it was envisioned by Fresno planners, long-stalled Veterans Boulevard moved forward Tuesday morning with phase one of a plan that ultimately should ease some of the city’s most congested traffic.
This phase is modest: a new $5.5 million section of Bullard Avenue helping residents south of Herndon Avenue get more quickly to that main east-west connector and to The Marketplace at El Paseo.
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For now, there are stop signs, but traffic signals are installed and await an energy source.
But what’s coming over the next couple of years, said Fresno City Councilman Mike Karbassi, will ensure that “Forgotten Fresno will be forgotten no more.”
Will Trump Administration Deliver the Final Dollars?
Better yet, 93% of the $138 million project is funded, said Fresno Publics Works Director Scott Mozier. City Hall is now waiting, on pins and needles, to learn whether the Trump administration gives a thumbs-up to Fresno’s request for the final dollars.
A White House announcement is expected in November. If the funds don’t come Fresno’s way, the city might look to bond the remainder or convince the Fresno County Transportation Authority, which oversees Measure C, to lend the money.
Former Fresno County Supervisor Phil Larson drove in from Kerman to attend Tuesday’s ribbon-cutting. He started advocating for Veterans Boulevard in 2003 and put a full shoulder into the effort until retiring from the board in January 2015.
“I figured it would take three years,” Larson said, with a laugh.
Government, however, moves slower than traffic across the Union Pacific tracks.
High-Speed Rail Delivers for Veterans Boulevard
Thankfully, there’s light at the end of the tunnel — thanks to the California High-Speed Rail project.
You can debate the merits of the state’s $79 billion effort to link the Bay Area to Los Angeles with bullet trains. Many people have argued for and against it, and they will continue to do so.
But there’s no disputing that high-speed rail’s $20.4 billion first segment — Bakersfield to Merced — is underwriting highway and road improvements in Valley cities such as Fresno.
Improvements All Over Fresno
Diana Gomez, who is the Central Valley regional director for the high-speed rail authority, cited several of the ways the state’s project is helping Fresno:
— Two completed miles of Highway 99 in Fresno with higher traffic capacity that is helping at peak commute times.
— The two-way Tuolumne bridge in downtown Fresno, resulting in better traffic flow.
— The upgraded Clinton overpass, which is reducing congestion and easing entry onto Highway 99.
— When Fresno’s high-speed rail segment is completed, motorists will cross the Union Pacific tracks without waiting for trains from Herndon to Church avenues.
“I don’t think anybody understands these added benefits,” Gomez says. “All of these overpasses and underpasses we’re building, you’re not going to have to hear that train honking anymore. You’re not going to have to wait for the train to pass on the UP corridor. You know, traffic backs up on Shaw Avenue, on Herndon. All that traffic will flow a lot nicer when we have these overpasses built.”
Better traffic flow reduces air pollution. In addition, people get where they need to go faster — first-responders included.
Mozier said that the rail project delivered $4.5 million for phase one, with the local Measure C transportation tax and development fees chipping in the other $1 million.
By the way, phase one was completed $300,000 under budget, Mozier said, thanks to great work by American Paving, Mark Thomas Civil Engineering, and city employees.
The Next Phase is the Big One
To my eyes, the first segment of Veterans Boulevard isn’t much to see. But, as Mozier said, it’s a “key milestone” leading to the all-important second phase: taking Veterans Boulevard up and over the high-speed rail and UP tracks, Golden State Boulevard, and Highway 99 while providing complete interconnectivity.
Construction is scheduled to begin in early 2020 with a ribbon-cutting about 18 months later.
Unlike Tuesday’s lightly attended event, everybody — and their brother — will be there.
Expect former Fresno Mayor Autry to be there. He’s the one who came up with naming a then micro-patch of road “Veterans Boulevard” in 2005.
Expect former District 2 councilman Steve Brandau and maybe even the representative before him, Andreas Borgeas, too. Their shoulders accompanied Larson’s in pushing for the boulevard.
“Veterans Boulevard will be like Lipitor clearing up an artery,” Autry said over the phone Tuesday. “We have a lot of clogged arteries in that part of Fresno.
“This is fantastic because it’s going to grow our economy and keep the middle-class dream alive west of 99 with jobs and affordable homes. Now, we have to do something similar for southeast Fresno.”
Finally, the road to nowhere is going somewhere. And that’s good news.