Work starts soon on high-speed rail trench into downtown Fresno

Motorists on Highway 180 through downtown Fresno will start seeing the effects of high-speed rail construction in July as crews begin building a trench that will take the bullet-train tracks beneath the freeway.

The 40-foot-deep trench is the first underground construction for California’s high-speed train system. The two-mile long trench, from Roeding Park to about Stanislaus Street in downtown Fresno, will go under the freeway as well as a San Joaquin Valley Railroad line and an irrigation canal.

The California High-Speed Rail Authority reports that the initial work will include improvements to the shoulders of Highway 180 between G and H streets.

That will require closures of the eastbound lane and shoulders on Highway 180 and occasional closures of the connector ramps from Highway 180 to northbound and southbound Highway 99.

Most of the work is scheduled to happen between 8 p.m. and 5 a.m. and will continue for about two months.

The shoulder work will include paving bypass lanes that will be used by drivers in later stages of the construction project.

Once the shoulder work is completed, traffic lanes will be shifted in stages as the trench is excavated beneath the freeway over the course of about 18 months.

The Fresno Trench is one of several sites in Fresno and Madera counties where work is happening on the statewide high-speed rail line. Crews also are building major viaducts, or elevated structures, to carry tracks over the Fresno River, Highway 145 and Raymond Road in Madera and over Cedar Avenue and Highway 99 south of downtown Fresno. A new Tuolumne Street bridge is under construction over the Union Pacific railroad freight tracks and the future high-speed rail line in downtown Fresno.

Work also is taking place on a bridge over Cottonwood Creek in Madera County and over the San Joaquin River near Highway 99 on the Fresno-Madera county line.

All of the work in Fresno and Madera counties is part of Construction Package 1, the first construction contract awarded by the rail authority. A contracting consortium led by Tutor Perini Inc. of Sylmar won the $1 billion contract, initially awarded for a 29-mile segment from American Avenue at the south edge of Fresno to Avenue 17 in Madera.

Earlier this year, the segment was extended northward by about three miles, to Avenue 19 near Madera’s Amtrak station, adding about $155 million to the contract.

Tim Sheehan: 559-441-6319, @TimSheehanNews