It seems like no matter in what direction Kelly Chaidez points her car when she leaves her central Fresno home, she runs into some sort of construction project clogging city streets.
When she heads east on McKinley Avenue from her home near Floradora and Weber avenues, she’s confronted by work on new regional water mains for the city of Fresno. When she heads north on Weber Avenue to get to the supermarket where she shops, Chaidez encounters orange cones and detour signs for construction related to the state’s high-speed rail project.
And when she heads south to conduct business downtown, there’s more high-speed rail work, as well as the city’s ongoing project to convert the old Fulton Mall back into Fulton Street.
“I’m in the middle of all of it, and it makes it hard to get around,” said Chaidez, a retired teacher. “I feel like I’m an island unto myself.”
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Plenty more people may encounter similar difficulties starting next week when the city will close McKinley Avenue to through traffic between Blackstone Avenue and Fresno Street for six to eight weeks. The closure is to allow contractors to excavate and install a half-mile section of water mains that will eventually provide water to residents and businesses from a new surface water treatment plant under construction in southeast Fresno.
Drivers passing through the area will be rerouted north to Clinton Avenue or south to Olive Avenue during the work. One westbound lane of McKinley will be kept available only for access to local businesses along the street, said Michael Carbajal, planning manager for the city’s Public Utilities Department. “If you are accessing a business within there, based on where the construction is at, you will be allowed to proceed to that business,” Carbajal said. “You just won’t be able to travel through the construction zone.”
The city has already notified businesses and residents along and near McKinley Avenue about the traffic disruption; the main concern is for drivers who are used to passing through the area for their daily errands or commutes. “We know there will be some inconvenience,” Carbajal said. “We’re asking people to be patient, allow extra time for their drive, and to follow the detour signs.”
We know there will be some inconvenience. We’re asking people to be patient, allow extra time for their drive, and to follow the detour signs.
Michael Carbajal, planning manager for Fresno’s public utilities department
The half-mile section of McKinley is just the latest portion of the 13-mile “regional transmission main” that crews have been working on since February. Earlier this summer, a wider section of McKinley Avenue west of Blackstone near Fresno City College and Fresno High School was affected by the pipeline construction. “That was the only section where we had a time constraint,” Carbajal said. “There’s no good time to do this, but (for the schools) the summer was a better time to do it.”
Olive Avenue from Armstrong Avenue to Fresno Street has also faced periodic obstruction for the pipeline excavation and installation since February; that work is nearly completed, save for some finishing work at the intersections of Chestnut and Cedar avenues and First Street.
Palm Avenue between McKinley and Olive is undergoing construction as well for the pipeline project. From September through November, construction crews will continue working their way south along Palm toward H and Divisadero streets at the edge of downtown. “The overall project will be complete and ready to support the Southeast Surface Water Treatment Facility in early 2018,” Carbajal said.
The water mains and treatment plant are all part of Recharge Fresno, the city’s $429.1 million project to reduce the city’s reliance on pumped groundwater. The city provides updates on construction notices on its website, www.rechargefresno.com.
For Chaidez and other drivers trying to maneuver through the city, the water lines and other construction jobs represent an inconsistent inconvenience. “When they closed the Clinton overpass (over Highway 99 for high-speed rail construction), it drove all the traffic from Clinton to McKinley to get across 99, so it has created quite a gridlock on this little street here,” she said of Weber Avenue, which she uses to head north for her grocery shopping. “It can be a challenge sometimes, so I try to pass up the traffic and take the side streets.”
It could drive you crazy, especially if you’re on a time constraint. I’m retired, so my time is open. But if I had a job
Kelly Chaidez, on an abundance of road construction in Fresno
As for downtown, where she conducts other business, the abundance of road closures or lane restrictions – at Palm and H streets and the Tuolumne Street bridge for high-speed rail, plus the Fulton Street reconstruction – are another headache. “I’ve gotten trapped downtown not knowing how to get out of it,” Chaidez said with a laugh. “I figured my way in, I maneuvered around. … But when it came time to get out, I was like, ‘OK, how do I do this?’ ”
Mark Standriff, a spokesman for the city, said Fresno’s public works and public utilities departments, Caltrans and the California High-Speed Rail Authority are keenly aware of how the abundance of construction projects are tying commutes up in knots.
“Our staff has been working with Caltrans and with high-speed rail to try to minimize the challenges that motorists are going to face as growth occurs in the city,” Standriff said. “Once we get past it and get used to the new patterns, the long-term benefits are going to be enormous. It’s some short-term inconvenience for long-term benefits.”
Chaidez said she understands the need for the infrastructure work. “We need better roads, we need a better water system,” she said. “It’s just that the advancement of our societal demands requires this.”
“I have chosen not to be distressed about it,” she added. “It could drive you crazy, especially if you’re on a time constraint. I’m retired, so my time is open. But if I had a job … or a meeting at a specific time, this could be quite soul-crushing.”