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Fresno Nears End of Truck Route Study. Residents & Businesses Aren't Sure of the Impacts.
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By Edward Smith
Published 4 weeks ago on
May 27, 2024

The city of Fresno's AB 617 Community Truck Reroute Study is now available for public comment. (GV Wire Composite/Paul Marshall)

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In south Fresno, where industrial job centers butt up against residential neighborhoods, the city has a map outlining large swaths of land limiting the trucks that residents say all too often zoom down school roads and pollute the air.

What is now before the public is a document many are unclear about. Fresno City Councilmember Miguel Arias said he expected a street-by-street breakdown of what roads can be accessed by trucks.

On Wednesday, May 22, Fresno City Council authorized spending another $52,670 on a $302,670 contract to market the city’s AB 617 Community Truck Reroute Study.

Fresno leaders have for more than two years hoped the study outlining what roads heavy trucks can drive on in south Fresno could be one solution in the ongoing fight between environmental groups and industrial interests.

What is now before the public is a document many are unclear about. Fresno City Councilmember Miguel Arias said he expected a street-by-street breakdown of what roads can be accessed by trucks.

Business owners say they were once again left out of the conversation that affects the land on which they do business. And without clarity, the lack of clear terms and engagement further jeopardizes the city’s “economic engine.”

“They want to limit the transportation coming in there,” said Joe Kalpakoff, CEO of Mid-Valley Disposal. “It’s very concerning as a business owner. It’s concerning that we weren’t contacted to provide comment early on when the project was getting off the ground.”

The proposed map from the city of Fresno shows where trucks would be restricted. (City of Fresno)

City Wants to Keep Unnecessary Truck Trips Out

The map is now being circulated for public comment. The $50,000 authorized three additional workshops and marketing materials. They plan to have the map out by August, said Jill Gormley, assistant director of Traffic and Engineering Services with the city.

Business owners say they were once again left out of the conversation that affects the land on which they do business. And without clarity, the lack of clear terms and engagement further jeopardizes the city’s “economic engine.”

The goal for the city with its Community Truck Reroute Study was to limit health impacts of trucks in south Fresno and comply with Assembly Bill 617, Gormley said.

In the city council meeting, Arias said the expectation for the plan was to clearly define what roads are authorized.

“My presumption when we undertook this truck study is that we were going to identify roads that should not be truck routes, for example, Cherry Avenue in front of Orange Elementary,” Arias said.

City staff said during the meeting the goal is to minimize unnecessary truck trips.

The city has a map outlining what roads heavy trucks can drive on, dating back to 2005. The city’s updated map proposes large “regulated areas” dictating that if trucks have no business in the area, that they shouldn’t be there. That means eliminating “shortcuts” a truck might take, Gormley said. Those regulated areas blanket major industrial zones.

“You can still use the regulated areas if you’re a truck, if you have business in that area, but we don’t want people or the trucks going from point A to point B to get from one point to the other,” she said.

Elm Avenue Set for Another Change

One of the areas that falls within the restricted area is the much-contested Elm Avenue business park.

The owners of the industrial businesses and warehouses lining Elm Avenue understand that the “restricted” designation only limits unnecessary truck trips, according to a letter submitted Wednesday by attorney John Kinsey. He represents landlords and business owners in the area.

But they fear in the future that it could be used as a tool against development.

“My clients are concerned that the lack of a Truck Route adjacent to or near their properties and their location in a Truck Regulated Area will be used in the future by project opponents, the City, and other public agencies to assert that affected landowners and businesses should be denied discretionary approvals,” Kinsey said.

In 2018, Fresno City Council approved the Southwest Fresno Specific Plan. It changed the zoning of the ground beneath the 800,000 square feet of businesses already operating there from industrial to a more retail-focused use. While businesses there were grandfathered in, property owners said the new rules put a clock on how long they had to get a new tenant.

They also feared it would jeopardize securing loans on out-of-compliance buildings.

The city developed their strategy using community input from outreach events and stakeholder meetings, according to the study. But businesses say they were left out of the discussion.

Kalpakoff, whose business is among those on Elm Avenue, said he was never consulted about the truck route study. Kinsey said none of the landowners he represents there were, either.

“I was firstly surprised that we weren’t contacted for any comment or questions on it, and so to see that they want to move trucks around an area that’s currently designated for trucks is concerning,” said Joe Kalpakoff, CEO of Mid-Valley Disposal located along Elm Avenue.

Aerial map of Elm Avenue in southwest Fresno. (City of Fresno)

Enforcement Levels Undecided

One of the challenges for the city is deciding to what degree the rules will be enforced.

With the map now available for public comment, one thing they hope to get is a sense of how far they should take monitoring whether a truck should be on a road or not. Without many resources, Gormley said education may be the best solution.

“That’s education on the part of maybe businesses and truck drivers on what our new map looks like to try to keep them on the designated route so they’re not going through the neighborhoods,” Gormley said.

Ivanka Saunders, regional policy director for Leadership Council for Justice & Accountability, one of the advocacy groups pushing for an updated map, said enforcement is key.

“We do want to see that the recommendations include enforcement, education, health impacts, and better land use ordinances,” Saunders said.

Environmental Groups Want to Kill Major Freeway On-Ramp Upgrade

The plan eliminates Central Avenue near Highway 41 as an accepted truck route. Instead, trucks would have to detour onto the freeway using North Avenue. Sources say this would bottleneck the already impacted onramp.

Caltrans wants to upgrade two onramps, one at North Avenue, the other at American Avenue.

Protesters gather at the Friends of Calwa office April 6, 2023. They oppose to Highway 99 interchange improvements in their area. (GV Wire/David Taub)

Leadership Council for Justice & Accountability has an active lawsuit against Caltrans for the construction of a new onramp at North Avenue, saying the $105 million project would encourage more truck traffic in a pollution-burdened area.

Businesses Say They Are Already Adapting for Other Truck GHG Rules

Ethan Smith, chairman of business-advocacy group INVEST Fresno, said South Central Fresno is the city’s economic engine. A study commissioned by the group showed the area generating $13 billion in economic activity and $100 million in tax revenue.

Smith said the group has concerns the truck route study could negatively impact the area that relies on truck activity.

“With Fresno facing a $47 million budget deficit this year and potential deficits in the future, it is crucial to avoid policies that hinder businesses in the area’s ability to efficiently access their facilities, add potentially costly monitoring programs, and open the door to more onerous restrictions,” Smith said.

Other state laws have businesses upgrading their fleets to cleaner vehicles, Kalpakoff said. Kalpakoff said the changes remind him of the Southwest Fresno Specific Plan when changes were made and business owners were informed later.

“It’s concerning that one group got together and decided where they want to change the regulations and implement these restrictions, and it seems like it’s self-serving for one group at this point,” Kalpakoff said.

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Edward Smith,
Multimedia Journalist
Edward Smith began reporting for GV Wire in May 2023. His reporting career began at Fresno City College, graduating with an associate degree in journalism. After leaving school he spent the next six years with The Business Journal, doing research for the publication as well as covering the restaurant industry. Soon after, he took on real estate and agriculture beats, winning multiple awards at the local, state and national level. You can contact Edward at 559-440-8372 or at Edward.Smith@gvwire.com.

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