Drivers on Tulare Street in downtown Fresno will have to deal with closures and detours for high-speed rail construction starting later this month near Chinatown. And nearby merchants are already fearful about how the work could affect their businesses.
Contractors for the California High-Speed Rail Authority will close Tulare Street between G and H streets for about nine months for the first stage of work to build a new street underpass that will ultimately carry traffic below the future high-speed train tracks and the existing Union Pacific Railroad freight tracks. The first and second stages of work on the underpass are expected to take up to two years.
Toni Tinoco, a spokeswoman for the rail agency, said traffic management plans are being reviewed by the city of Fresno and that work would start once the plans are approved.
“We’ve been meeting with businesses in Chinatown, continuously providing updates, additional signage, and getting people to understand how they can get to Chinatown,” said Diana Gomez, the regional director for the rail authority in the San Joaquin Valley. The rail authority has been working with the Fresno Economic Development Corp. to help businesses brace for the effects of closing one of the main traffic arteries that drivers use to get to the area.
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As construction progresses, our contractor is out there communicating and meeting with businesses and making adjustments as they need to.
Diana Gomez, California High-Speed Rail Authority
Ventura Avenue, a main street a few blocks south of Tulare Street, will also face a closure for construction of a high-speed-rail underpass a few months after work begins on Tulare Street. Gomez said both streets will be closed simultaneously for at least a few months. “First we’ll start with Tulare, then a couple of months later we’ll start on Ventura,” she said. “In the meantime, Fresno Street will continue to be open, which feeds into Chinatown and feeds into downtown.”
Union Pacific railroad crossings at Kern and Mono streets, a pair of smaller roads between Tulare and Ventura, will eventually be permanently closed.
Fresno Street will be used as a detour route for Tulare Street traffic to get across the Union Pacific tracks between downtown and Chinatown.
The rail authority’s website indicates that work on the underpass will take place in two stages over a period of about two years. In the first stage, Gomez said, the underpass will be dug and a new structure built for the high-speed rail tracks; Union Pacific trains will be diverted onto that new structure while the rest of the underpass is completed and new freight tracks built.
In the second stage, the underpass will be extended to the west and a new G Street crossing built over Tulare Street.
At Central Fish Company, a Japanese fish market and grocery store that’s been in business for almost 70 years, owner Morgan Doizaki is concerned that customers won’t want to navigate the lengthy detours to get to his store at G and Kern streets, a block south of Tulare Street.
“I’m worried about how business is going to just plummet; I wonder how my customers are going to find me,” Doizaki said Monday. “Almost all of my customers come from downtown on Tulare Street and turn on G Street.” And once Ventura Avenue to the south is closed, that option to get to G Street will be lost as well.
I’m worried about how business is going to just plummet; I wonder how my customers are going to find me.
Morgan Doizaki, Central Fish Company
Fresno Street is just two blocks away and will remain open during the construction, but Doizaki noted that it’s illegal for drivers coming from downtown toward Chinatown to make a left turn onto G Street. And in two years, when the underpass at Tulare is completed, “they’re eliminating the intersection at G Street, so people will still have to go the long way around.”
Doizaki talked about the problems that businesses near Clinton and Weber avenues in central Fresno experienced after Caltrans closed the Clinton Avenue overpass over Highway 99 as part of a highway project associated with high-speed rail. Several business owners there said they were struggling to stay afloat until the six-month project was completed.
But construction near Central Fish is expected to take two years. “We’ll see just how much business we lose,” he said. “But I know it’s going to be a lot. … Maybe if our customers keep coming, we can survive for a couple of years.”
Gomez said the state hopes to minimize the disruption. “As construction progresses, our contractor is out there communicating and meeting with businesses and making adjustments as they need to,” she said, “so we can ensure that people know how to get to Chinatown and that people can get to downtown.”