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$16.7m allocated to Road 80 project

VISALIA -- A long-awaited road project to ease traffic congestion between the cities of Dinuba and Visalia got a financial boost this week.

Tulare County officials announced Wednesday that the California Transportation Commission allocated $16.7 million for a widening project along Road 80 between Goshen Avenue in Visalia and Avenue 416 in Dinuba.

A majority of the money -- $14.8 million -- comes from the Federal Highway Administration.

The remaining $1.9 million is a match from the State Transportation Improvement Program.

Eric Coyne, county spokesman, said the allocation will pay for engineering and right-of-way purchases along the 14-mile stretch of road. County officials have said the project requires about 40 feet of right of way along the road's rural areas. Less right-of-way land is needed in areas of Dinuba and Visalia.

Under the project proposal, Road 80 will go from two lanes to four lanes and a median would be added. Traffic signals will go in at Avenue 400 and Riggins Avenue.

Coyne said he did not have a total cost Wednesday; however, project estimates this summer put it close to $100 million. "Obviously, we're real excited," he said. "This has been 10 years in the works."

Philip Slitor, engineer with the county Resource Management Agency, said the allocation was expected but still: "It's very, very good news."

Construction is still a few years away. Right-of-way acquisitions are expected to take 21/2 years.

Coyne said officials hope to start construction in 2009 with a completion date sometime in 2014.

Coyne said the goal is to cover the cost of the project with federal and state funding. Measure R, the half-cent transportation sales tax approved last month, will only be tapped if needed.

The county gets a lot of calls about needed improvements along Road 80, especially when fog season rolls in, Coyne said.

Supervisor Steve Worthley, whose district includes the Dinuba area, couldn't be reached for comment Wednesday. But he has repeatedly said Road 80 improvements have been a top district priority for many years.

Not everything is positive though.

The project will force five businesses and three homes to be relocated, while removing 54 acres of farmland from production. A few floodways, wetlands and a handful of small bridges also will be affected by the widening.

Slitor said officials haven't received much public comment on the project but that's because officials have been waiting on paperwork and funding before proceeding with further public hearings.

Only two people spoke during a June public hearing on an environmental document.

A Tulare woman who commutes to work in Dinuba told officials she supported the project. Another woman whose home is along Road 80 said she wasn't opposed but asked that officials take more of her property during right-of-way purchases.

The reporter can be reached at sjimenez@fresnobee.com or (559) 622-2413.

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