High-speed rail will shift Highway 99 through Fresno

The Fresno BeeJuly 31, 2012 

Caltrans estimates that it will cost about $226 million and take up to three years to relocate a stretch of Highway 99 through Fresno to make way for high-speed train tracks.

The estimate by the state's transportation department includes acquiring the private property needed to shove the freeway west by about 100 feet between Ashlan and Clinton avenues in central Fresno, as well as building new traffic lanes and demolition of the old highway, according to a report to the California High-Speed Rail Authority.

The authority, meeting Thursday in Sacramento, will consider approving an agreement with Caltrans to handle the 2.5-mile construction project. No time frame has been set for when the freeway work would begin.

The proposed high-speed train line generally would run on the west side of the Union Pacific Railroad freight tracks through Fresno. But between Ashlan and Clinton avenues, the six-lane Highway 99 snuggles up against the Union Pacific rail yard, leaving no room to shoehorn the new tracks into their planned route.

Nudging the freeway to the west will require rebuilding the Ashlan and Clinton interchanges. A frontage road and three off-ramps -- Dakota, Shields and Princeton avenues -- also would be affected.

The state will have to buy all or part of about 50 parcels to make room for the relocated freeway. Some of those properties are now occupied by businesses including a pair of mini-storage companies, several motels, a mobile-home park, an RV dealership, a truck-stop and an assisted-living facility.

Besides paying for the construction, the authority will have to foot the bill for the cost of moving businesses that would be displaced by the highway.

The highway relocation is part of the first stretch of the rail line that the authority wants to start building in the central San Joaquin Valley from Madera to the south end of Fresno -- the first portion of the statewide, $68.4 billion train system.

The agency expects to accept bids in September from teams of prime contractors; the estimated price tag for the first portion is $1.5 billion to $2 billion. A contract could be awarded late this year or in early 2013.

Also Thursday, the board will:

  • Receive an update on evaluating and selecting route options for a connection in the Chowchilla area between the Merced-Fresno route and the Gilroy/San Jose area.

    The "Chowchilla Wye," as the connection is known, remained undetermined when the board approved the Merced-Fresno route in May.

    Several options are being considered, but a final decision is not expected until early to mid-2014.

  • Learn more about a revised draft environmental report for the Fresno-Bakersfield portion of the route. The report was released July 17 for two months of public comment, and hearings will be held Aug. 27-29 in Fresno, Hanford and Bakersfield.

    The report included an evaluation of two different bypass routes around Hanford as well as the rest of the proposed line through portions of Fresno, Kings, Tulare and Kern counties.

  • Consider establishing a goal that 10% of contract work on the statewide rail project be awarded to disadvantaged businesses -- generally considered to be small companies owned by women or ethnic minority owners. The 10% benchmark would be included in the authority's already-established goal that 30% of its contract dollars be spent with small-business enterprises.


If you go

The California High-Speed Rail Authority's board will meet at 9 a.m. Thursday at Sacramento City Hall, 915 I St. in downtown Sacramento

Live webcast: Go to cahighspeedrail.ca.gov for a link.

Agenda: Go to fblinks.com/hsraug

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6319, tsheehan@fresnobee.com or @tsheehan on Twitter.

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