It’s only about four-tenths of a mile, but city leaders consider a newly opened extension of West Bullard Avenue a key milestone for its much grander – and long-planned – Veterans Boulevard Project in northwest Fresno.
It represents the first completed phase of what will ultimately be a 2.5-mile, $138 million connection from Herndon and Polk avenues, east of Highway 99, to Shaw and Grantland avenues west of the freeway.
It will include an overpass to take automobile traffic up and over the existing Union Pacific Railroad tracks and future high-speed rail tracks as well as a new interchange on Highway 99 about a mile south of the current Herndon Avenue interchange.
Scott Mozier, Fresno’s public works director, said he expects the entire effort to be fully completed from Herndon to Shaw avenues by mid- to late 2023 – almost 40 years after the project was initially included in the city’s transportation plans.
“Connecting Bullard to Veterans and ultimately all the way up to Herndon Avenue via Riverside Drive, that has been part of the city’s long-term growth and traffic circulation since the 1984 General Plan,” Mozier said at a ceremony Tuesday. “Both Bullard Avenue and Veterans Boulevard have been the missing links in this area, and the lack of those roadways has contributed to traffic problems that we regularly hear about in community meetings.”
Until Tuesday, West Bullard Avenue had stopped at Carnegie Avenue — a small street that provides a gated, at-grade crossing of the Union Pacific tracks and is the only track crossing between Shaw and Herndon avenues.
The $5.5 million extension of Bullard to the intersection of Riverside Drive and the current stub of Veterans Boulevard came in under budget and on schedule, Mozier said.
It sets the stage for Phase 2, which will continue southwest from the intersection and include an overpass above the Union Pacific tracks. Mozier said construction for that structure will begin next spring or summer and take about 18 months to complete, opening in late 2021.
At about the same time, work is expected to commence for another segment of Veterans Boulevard between Shaw and Barstow avenues, west of Highway 99.
Mozier said the final portion of the work involves building the new Highway 99 interchange and extending Veterans Boulevard northeastward to the intersection of Herndon and Polk avenues.
But that piece awaits word in the next few months regarding an application for $10.5 million in federal transportation funds. But two prior federal applications for Veterans Boulevard have been passed over by the U.S. Department of Transportation – once in 2014 and again in 2018.
If that federal funding is approved, Mozier said work would begin in the spring of 2021 and be completed in the summer of 2023, marking completion of the entire project.
Fresno City Councilman Mike Karbassi, elected in August to represent District 2 that includes much of northwest Fresno, called Veterans Boulevard “a game changer” for the area because it will provide a new route from the west side of Highway 99 to the east side, uninterrupted by sometimes-lengthy delays waiting for trains at railroad crossings.
“It’s going to open up commercial opportunities for our residents so they can get access to the shopping they want; it’s going to increase access for public safety to improve response times and get to the calls faster,” Karbassi said. “It’s going to open up the west area, and ‘forgotten Fresno’ will be forgotten no more.”
The California High-Speed Rail Authority is contributing about $28 million for the work – part of an agreement with the city to chip on in Veterans Boulevard to offset the closure of the Carnegie Avenue crossing. Diana Gomez, the authority’s Central Valley regional director, thanked Mozier and the city for its collaboration. “The city has been kind of a guinea pig for our project,” Gomez said, referring to the process of working in cooperation with local governments along the future rail route through the Valley.
Mozier described the overall effort as a “win for the city of Fresno, a win for high-speed rail and a win for the community” because it will eventually smooth out traffic flow for northwest Fresno residents.
Other sources of money for the overall project include about $47 million from Measure C, Fresno County’s half-cent transportation sales tax; and about $40 million in transportation impact fees collected from developers as they build subdivisions and commercial to make up for the additional traffic that their projects will create; and state transportation funds.