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Did a new bridge make this old intersection dangerous?

New Tuolumne Street bridge traffic pattern catches some drivers by surprise

Some drivers traveling west over the newly opened Tuolumne Street bridge can't believe their eyes when they come face-to-face with one-way traffic heading east at the intersection of Tuolumne and E streets.
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Some drivers traveling west over the newly opened Tuolumne Street bridge can't believe their eyes when they come face-to-face with one-way traffic heading east at the intersection of Tuolumne and E streets.

In the days after the opening of the new Tuolumne Street bridge over a future high-speed rail line in downtown Fresno, drivers are still getting used to new traffic patterns in the area.

And it’s creating confusion at the intersection of Tuolumne and E streets, where Tuolumne changes from its new two-way configuration east of E Street to its old one-way eastbound pattern over Highway 99. Motorists in the area have told The Bee of several near-misses as drivers coming westbound over the bridge try to continue heading west beyond E Street and are confronted by oncoming one-way traffic.

“There is concern and we are having conversations with the California High-Speed Rail Authority,” said Mark Standriff, a spokesman for the city of Fresno. “The city has not yet accepted the bridge from the authority.”

Tuolumne
The new Tuolumne Street bridge carries two-way traffic near downtown Fresno, but Tuolumne transitions back to one-way eastbound-only at E Street. TIM SHEEHAN tsheehan@fresnobee.com

The bridge is part of the first construction segment in the Valley for the rail authority’s statewide project to build a bullet-train line connecting San Francisco and Los Angeles by way of the San Joaquin Valley. The old bridge for decades carried one-way eastbound traffic across the Union Pacific Railroad freight tracks between F and Broadway streets. But it did not provide enough clearance for the high-speed trains and the overhead power lines that will feed electricity to the trains. Demolition happened in early 2016, and the replacement bridge opened on Aug. 4.

Lisa Marie Alley, a spokeswoman for the rail agency, said contractor Tutor Perini / Zachry / Parsons is working with the city on a revised street-striping plan for the bridge. “This includes striping changes to Tuolumne and E streets that will help direct traffic more easily,” she said.

Thus far there have been no serious accidents at the intersection, likely because signals there are set to blink red in all directions, requiring drivers on both E and Tuolumne to stop before proceeding. And earlier this week, crews set up a “Do Not Enter” barricade further warning drivers heading west on Tuolumne that they must turn either north or south on E Street.

The bridge is the first structure to be completed in the high-speed rail project’s first construction contract, covering 29 miles and valued at more than $1 billion, in Fresno and Madera counties. Two other contracts have been issued by the rail authority for additional sections of the rail route through southern Fresno County, Kings and Tulare counties and to the town of Shafter in Kern County.

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