Motorists on Highway 180 near downtown Fresno will encounter a major shift in traffic patterns sometime in the coming days as construction continues for high-speed rail.
Contractors for the California High-Speed Rail Authority will begin excavating a trench that will carry the bullet-train line under the freeway where it spans H Street, the Union Pacific Railroad freight tracks and G Street at the northern edge of downtown Fresno. Once work begins, workers will shift one westbound lane of Highway 180 across the median to the eastbound lanes.
UPDATE: The work was supposed to begin early Thursday, but has been pushed off for several days because the contractor is waiting for a particular piece of equipment, a spokeswoman for the high-speed rail agency said.
The new traffic pattern will be in place for about five months. A concrete barrier will separate the eastbound lanes from the shifted westbound lane. Electronic signs will warn motorists about the lane shifts and reduced speed limit in the construction zone.
It is the first of five stages of construction in which traffic lanes will be shifted as excavation under the freeway continues. Next spring, a temporary bridge will be built to allow westbound traffic to return to its normal side of the freeway.
Work began in the summer to widen the shoulders of Highway 180 to temporarily handle traffic in anticipation of the rail project’s Fresno Trench. The widened shoulders were required because Caltrans is requiring the rail authority to maintain three lanes of traffic open in each direction on the freeway during construction.
When it’s completed in 18 to 24 months, the Fresno Trench will span nearly 1 3/4 miles from Roeding Park to Stanislaus Street. At the deepest point, the high-speed-rail tracks will be about 40 feet below the surface of the ground – deep enough to go beneath the highway as well as under a nearby freight railroad spur and irrigation canal. Burrowing the trench beneath the freeway is expected to cost about $4 million, according to the rail authority.
The work is part of the first construction segment on what is planned as a statewide high-speed-rail line connecting San Francisco and Los Angeles by way of Fresno and the San Joaquin Valley.