Fresno’s Peach Avenue gets long-sought widening

The long effort to widen part of Peach Avenue in Fresno has turned into an award winner.

Since the 1990s City Hall has wanted to turn a one-mile-plus stretch of Peach in southeast Fresno into a modern, four-lane street. Something always popped up to stop progress.

But city officials, in particular Council Member Sal Quintero, never despaired. The $16.4 million project of widening Peach to four lanes from Kings Canyon Road to Belmont Avenue is done. Many are taking well-deserved bows.

Quintero and Public Works Director Scott Mozier this month praised a council chamber full of public works employees for the department’s perseverance. Quintero and Mozier then announced that the Peach Avenue widening was named project of the year by the central California chapter of the American Public Works Association.

“I applaud the persistence of our Public Works staff,” said Quintero, who represents much of the area. “They knew the project meant so much to southeast Fresno. They went the extra mile.”

City Manager Bruce Rudd said Peach Avenue is just one item on a long list of important street-improvement projects.

“So many of these local transportation projects we’ve so worked hard for are coming to fruition,” Rudd said. “That makes Fresno a better town.”

Fresno in the 1980s got serious about expanding its freeway system. The passage in 1986 of Measure C, the countywide transportation sales tax, was a funding milestone. The Fresno-Clovis web of freeways, considered inevitable by local visionaries as far back as the 1950s, spread relentlessly.

Modern times came to Peach Avenue in two ways.

Highway 180 inched its way from downtown to the east, running parallel to Belmont. The vineyards on the other side of Clovis Avenue beckoned to developers. Pretty soon 180 was past Peach. Freeway on- and off-ramps were part of the deal.

City Hall had to turn Peach into a tributary worthy of the new highway. A short jaunt to the north of 180 was Fresno Yosemite International Airport. To the south were the homes, businesses, schools and churches of southeast Fresno.

City officials in the beginning focused scarce transportation dollars on improving Peach to the airport. City officials in the late 1990s looked for other pots of money to widen Peach south of 180.

Part of the reason was anticipation. Sunnyside High School at Kings Canyon and Peach was slated to open in late summer 1999. New-home sales in southeast Fresno were growing by double-digit percentages. Peach could only get busier.

Part of it was fair play. Much of Peach south of 180 was a mess. Bottlenecks frustrated drivers. Cracks marred the asphalt. Youngsters walked to Easterby Elementary School at Tulare Avenue on dirt paths next to a two-lane road.

Nothing went right in those years. The city’s proposed 1999-2000 budget included nearly $1 million to begin widening Peach south of 180. The project was defunded during June budget hearings, much to Quintero’s displeasure.

City and Fresno County officials in fall 1999 said they would apply jointly for federal money to widen Peach from Belmont to Butler Avenue. Parts of Peach run through the county. The headlines came and went with no action.

So it continued for years — promises, promises. City Hall at one point convinced the state to pitch in millions, only to watch the money disappear when Sacramento had one of its periodic budget crises.

Plans for Peach south of 180 “were put on the shelf,” Quintero said.

Words turned to deeds in 2013 when the City Council awarded a $5.6 million construction contract to Yarbs Grading and Paving of Fowler. Engineering and environmental work, the undergrounding of utilities and the purchase of right-of-way parcels boosted the bill to $16.4 million.

The state came through with money. But more than $8 million came from Measure C.

Peach from Sunnyside High now runs four lanes far to the north. Many of the historic olive trees along a formally rural street were saved. New palm trees were planted to replace older palms deemed to be in the way. Safe sidewalks are the norm.

Quintero pushed and prodded the project for 20 years. He was District 5 council member from 1995 to 2003, served his successor, Mike Dages, as chief of staff for the next eight years, then returned to the council dais as District 5 representative in 2011. He was re-elected without opposition in the June 2014 primary.

Quintero has been in the middle of things for so long that the project no longer belongs entirely to him. District boundaries had to keep pace with growth. Some of the Peach project to Belmont is now in Council Member Clint Olivier’s District 7.

Quintero said the widening of Peach isn’t about credit.

“I’m proud,” he said. “Bottom line — it happened.”