Put on your hard hat: A look at high-speed rail construction in Fresno area
Contractors are picking up the pace of construction on the first stage of California’s high-speed train system, with cranes, bulldozers and other heavy equipment at work at several sites in and around downtown Fresno.
Major construction on the first 29-mile section began last summer on a viaduct over the Fresno River and Highway 145 east of Madera. Now, more than halfway through the term of the contract, progress is evident at the southern end of the project. In downtown Fresno, the old Tuolumne Street bridge over the Union Pacific railroad tracks was demolished in January and February. Crews are working there on foundations for a new, taller bridge with enough clearance for not only the freight trains, but for new high-speed trains and the electrical lines that will power them.
“They’re starting to do the foundation work and getting ready … to pour the columns, so you’ll start seeing the columns up fairly shortly,” said Diana Gomez, the California High-Speed Rail Authority’s Central Valley regional director. The bridge is scheduled to be completed in November, but because the demolition of the old bridge went faster than expected, “we could potentially see the (new) bridge completed prior to November.”
Construction could also begin soon on another major structure for the rail system, a bridge over the San Joaquin River at the north end of Fresno.
About a mile to the north, behind the Zacky Farms feed mill on H Street near Palm Avenue, foundation work is happening on a trench that will take the high-speed rail tracks beneath Highway 180, a San Joaquin Valley Railroad freight line and an irrigation canal. The trench, which will extend about a mile from Roeding Park to El Dorado Street, represents a complex engineering chore because it will require temporary tracks for the railroad to continue operating, as well as a carefully choreographed ballet of traffic diversions for drivers on Highway 180.
“We are working closely with Caltrans,” Gomez said. “You may start seeing traffic need to be redirected or reconfigured on 180 so we can start building that portion of the trench. … We’re very close to starting that work, as well.”
And to the south, near Cedar Avenue and Highway 99, crews are in the early stages of digging and pouring concrete footings for a 3,700-foot-long, elevated viaduct that will carry bullet trains up and over the freeway heading south along the BNSF Railway tracks toward Hanford.
“Driving along State Route 99, you can see the drilling going on preparing for that foundation as well,” Gomez said. “That is one of the longest viaducts on the project.”
Construction could also begin soon on another major structure for the rail system, a bridge over the San Joaquin River at the north end of Fresno. Crews have been doing preliminary work called “clearing and grubbing” to prepare the area, “and you’ll start seeing more heavy equipment moving into that area in the next couple of weeks,” Gomez said.
In a related project, contractors for Caltrans have been working near Clinton Avenue and Highway 99 on construction necessary to relocate a 2-mile stretch of the freeway westward by about 100 feet between Ashlan and Clinton avenues. Gomez said a retaining wall, excavation and other work is to provide a temporary detour for the reconstruction of the Clinton/99 interchange.