Downtown Fresno construction: Progress, 1 bump at a time

The Fresno BeeJune 16, 2014 

Navigating downtown Fresno has been an adventurous, bumpy, orange cone-filled ride lately.

A variety of projects -- two new buildings under construction, city water and sewer line repairs, wheelchair ramp installations and other changes -- are inspiring grumbling among downtown drivers and walkers.

Though it can be a headache, the work is progress for downtown, said city Public Works Director Scott Mozier.

"We basically have some short-term inconvenience for the long-term gain for the community," he said.

Much of the work is the city's upgrade of water and sewer systems downtown, he said. It includes upgrading the pipes that lead to and away from showers, toilets and other fixtures. It also includes upgrades that allow firefighter hoses to have plenty of water pressure if a building burns.

The upgrades can better handle the current water and sewer demand, including the hundreds of new residences built in downtown in recent years, Mozier said. They're also needed for future growth in downtown, he said.

But the work, including some private construction of new buildings, comes with growing pains.

Trucks, signs and workers are spilling onto Kern Street between Van Ness Avenue and L Street as workers repair a sewer pipe in the alley next to the Downtown Club. Traffic is down to one direction at a time.

All the equipment and noise has meant fewer customers for Mabel's Kitchen, said owner Susan Valiant.

"It's like day and night," she said. "Thursday was really bad. It looked so congested down here."

She's reminding customers via Facebook that she's still open, has just started offering salads and will deliver to offices for a $30 minimum.

The sewer line fixes take between three and five days to repair before workers move onto the next one, which is sometimes in close proximity, said Phil Tarvin, the city's public works manager.

Parts of F and Mono streets have been closed recently due to the installation of a large water pipe.

"The pipes downtown (are) probably the oldest we have," Tarvin said.

Though the work can be a headache for drivers, it's an even bigger headache if those pipes don't work, Tarvin said.

"We do our best work when all people know is that the toilets flush and everything is going away," he said. "If that's not happening, we got a problem."

The work will continue to H Street and eventually cross Ventura Avenue. The project will continue into 2015, in areas as far north as Willow and International avenues, and west to Nielsen and Teilman avenues.

Many streets ripped up as part of this project have been temporarily -- but roughly -- paved over. Once workers ensure that the broader system is working, the streets will be smoothed out and permanently paved.

Other projects with coincidental timing around downtown include:

• The Fresno Housing Authority is building a 45-unit apartment building at Inyo Street and Van Ness Avenue. Inyo is blocked off between Van Ness and L Street during business hours. The street closing is expected to last through October.

The four-story building will have commercial spaces on the ground floor below a mix of studios, one- and two-bedroom apartments aimed at young professionals. It replaces the dilapidated Droge building, which was torn down last year.

• First 5 Fresno County is building its new headquarters at Tulare and N streets. The project features a child-care center, classroom space and a community conference room in addition to First 5's administrative offices.

• Wheelchair ramps are being added to various intersections to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

• Work was finished recently on Broadway Street, north of Tuolumne Street. The road lost a center turn lane and added more parking by switching from parallel parking to diagonal parking.

Irrigation lines were added to trees that before were serviced by a water truck and workers did some storm drain work on the street.

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6431, bclough@fresnobee.com or @BethanyClough on Twitter.

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