The Fresno County Transportation Authority, which oversees Measure C sales tax appropriations, has an opportunity Wednesday to approve a request that will connect the Clovis Old Town Trail with a new seven-mile trail extending to Blackstone and Shields avenues in central Fresno.
It’s no secret that Fresno has lagged behind Clovis on trails. Mayor Ashley Swearengin came into office wanting to improve the trails situation, but financial challenges brought by the Great Recession caused her to put that goal on the back burner.
Now, as the final months wind down before Swearengin terms out, her office is asking the FCTA to back a $9.5 million plan to build the Midtown Trail, which would utilize the banks of the Herndon and Mill canals to reach Clovis Avenue.
In a February memo to the FCTA, Fresno City Manager Bruce Rudd said, “The City of Fresno has coordinated closely with the City of Clovis, County of Fresno and Fresno Irrigation District, as well as with regional trail advocates Mark Keppler and John Wright in developing the proposed project.”
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When completed, the trail would result in a continuous 17-mile metro system that would elevate our quality of life. The route – east from Blackstone along Shields to Millbrook Avenue, then south to McKinley Avenue and east to Clovis – would greatly benefit south Fresno residents who have little park space and other recreational amenities.
But there is a potential roadblock: Fresno wants an advance of its share of Measure C trail funds so the trail can be built in its entirety instead of piecemeal – or waiting until the city accumulates enough funding for the entire project.
Under the proposal, Fresno is asking to borrow $7.3 million – what it is projected to receive over the next six years – and repay it with interest by the end of the 2022-23 fiscal year. The advance would come from the Measure C Rail Consolidation Fund.
The FCTA has only advanced money one time in its history, and that was for a public transportation infrastructure study. In addition, with rail consolidation dead, the FCTA might want to start funding grade separation projects earlier than the 15-year Measure C guideline that voters approved in 2006. The Rail Consolidation Fund would pay for the grade separations.
Diana Sedigh-Darbandi, acting executive director of FCTA, also warned in a memo to authority board members that Fresno’s request for an advance on Measure C funds “may be seen as a precedent by the other fourteen cities and (the) county who are also recipients of Local Transportation pass through funds, to request an exception for their projects.”
The Measure C Citizens Oversight Committee, however, voted to support the Midtown Trail plan in December.
We believe the citizens committee got it right. This project is worthy of support from FCTA board members.
Let’s not forget that trails – which promote good health and mental well-being and cut down on air pollution – were among the voters’ highest priorities when Measure C was extended. This particular trail would enhance neighborhoods and attract much-needed investment to Fresno’s urban core – a priority for helping the city’s new general plan succeed.
Fresno residents have waited 10 years for more trails. The FCTA board can advance this much-needed, well-conceived project with an affirmative vote Wednesday.