Tulare Street between downtown Fresno and the city’s historic Chinatown district will be closed for about two years starting Thursday for high-speed rail construction.
Contractors for the California High-Speed Rail Authority will be building an underpass that will carry Tulare Street traffic under the future bullet-train line, as well as the existing Union Pacific Railroad freight tracks and a rebuilt G Street. The road will be closed between G Street, on the west side of the Union Pacific tracks in Chinatown, and H Street on the east side near the Chukchansi Park baseball stadium.
The underpass is being built in two stages. The first is for the underpass below the high-speed and freight rail tracks; the second will be for construction of a new G Street crossing that will run along the west side of the high-speed rail line.
Fresno Street, two blocks north of Tulare, will be the primary detour route for drivers throughout the construction. From downtown to the east, drivers on Tulare Street will be routed north to Mariposa Street/Broadway Plaza and then southwest on Fresno Street to F Street, then back to Tulare Street. From Chinatown, drivers will turn northwest on F Street, then northeast onto Fresno Street, and then southwest on H Street to Tulare.
Later this year, crews are also expected to begin work on a similar high-speed rail underpass at Ventura Avenue, a few blocks south of Tulare Street. Diana Gomez, Central Valley regional director for the rail authority, said closures of Ventura and Tulare will overlap with simultaneous construction for at least a few months. “First we’ll start with Tulare, then a couple of months later we’ll start on Ventura,” Gomez told The Bee earlier this month. “In the meantime, Fresno Street will continue to be open, which feeds into Chinatown and feeds into downtown.”
The work was initially supposed to begin on Monday, but has been pushed back at the request of the city’s public works department.
Merchants in Chinatown have expressed misgivings over how the closure of Tulare Street and Ventura Avenue, two main routes into the district – will affect their commerce. Morgan Doizaki, whose family owns the popular Central Fish Company at G and Kern streets, one block south of Tulare, worried that customers won’t be willing to navigate detours to get to the Japanese grocery store. Adding fuel to his concern is that Kern Street has also been designated for eventual closure.
First we’ll start with Tulare (Street), then a couple of months later we’ll start on Ventura (Avenue). In the meantime, Fresno Street will continue to be open, which feeds into Chinatown and feeds into downtown.
Diana Gomez, Central Valley director, California High-Speed Rail Authority
Fears over business disruptions spurred the launch of a Facebook page called “Keep Kern Street Open” to encourage the rail authority to maintain Kern as a route into Chinatown while the underpasses at Tulare and Ventura are under construction. Additionally, the board of the Downtown Fresno Partnership – an assessment district comprising a coalition of downtown property and business owners east of Chinatown – unanimously voted to support keeping Kern Street open during the construction.
“We recognize the magnitude of this road closure and remain committed to working with the city of Fresno, our contractor and local businesses to mitigate potential construction impacts whenever possible through this project,” said Toni Tinoco, a spokeswoman for the rail authority. Tinoco added that the rail agency is in discussions with the city about keeping Kern Street open and evaluating cost and schedule concerns.
Underpasses and overpasses along the high-speed rail route are needed to eliminate any at-grade railroad crossings where potential collisions could happen between cars or trucks and trains traveling up to 220 mph. Twelve new grade separations are included in the 32-mile, $1 billion-plus construction corridor between the south end of Fresno and the north edge of Madera.