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published on April 21, 2016 - 8:09 PM
Written by The Business Journal Staff
Bullet trains aren’t scheduled to zip through California for another 15 years but multiple construction projects related to the Golden State’s ambitious $68 billion High-Speed Rail plan are already beginning to transform the Central Valley landscape — and impact local business owners.

“The Fresno River Viaduct and Tuolumne Street Bridge projects are moving forward in big ways,” said Toni Tinoco, a spokesperson for the California High-Speed Rail Authority.

Construction is also kicking off at a handful of other sites around the Valley including the Fresno Trench, Cedar Viaduct, San Joaquin River Viaduct and in and around Hanford in Kings County.

At the end of March, construction crews began pouring concrete on the bridge deck and “superstructure” spanning two columns of the Fresno River Viaduct near Madera.

In Downtown Fresno, demolition of the Tuolumne Street bridge, which began just after the first of the year, was completed ahead of schedule and crews are now setting columns that will eventually support the new two-way bridge, which will be higher than the old bridge in order to allow bullet trains to pass underneath.

Tinoco said construction of the new Tuolumne Street bridge should be complete “by late 2016.”

Some local business owners located on either sides of the Tuolumne Street bridge say they can’t wait for the construction to be finished.

Sol Orozco, owner of Raizana Tea Company, located on Tuolumne St. just east of the bridge construction zone, said her store’s walk-in traffic has fallen off dramatically  since the bridge work started.

“We’re averaging only about $20 a day in in-store sales,” she said. Fortunately, the company’s online business orders have remained strong.

Orozco, who is considering closing her downtown store when her lease expires this summer, is upset about the way the Rail Authority has handled communications with businesses impacted by the construction.

“I didn’t even hear they were doing the bridge project until just before Christmas,” she said. “And I had to find out through a friend who saw it on Facebook. The train people never even contacted us.”

Another business owner on Tuolumne Street, Alvaro Romero of Misc. Trading, is considering petitioning the Rail Authority for financial relief.” “The road closures and all of this construction has just about killed my business,” Romero said.

Meanwhile, in south Fresno, crews from Tutor-Perini/Zachry/Parsons — referred to by Authority officials as TPZP — are doing earthwork in preparation for construction of the new Cedar Viaduct.

TPZP, a joint venture composed of three California-based companies, is the general contractor awarded the design-build contract for Construction Package 1 (CP 1), the initial 29-mile segment of the bullet train route linking Madera and Fresno counties.

The Cedar Viaduct’s design features four tall concrete arches extending over Highway 99 as well as North and Cedar avenues.

The bridge will mark the southern end of the bullet train line as it passes through Fresno.

Construction is also scheduled to begin this month on the San Joaquin River Viaduct, which will feature two concrete arches spanning the San Joaquin River. Tinoco said the new bridge will also include a “pergola” structure that will allow the bullet train tracks to be built above the already established Union Pacific tracks.

Further east, work is also progressing rapidly on the two-mile-long Fresno Trench, running south of Highway 180 between Olive and Belmont avenues. Crews working at that site have already installed nearly 400 lagging piles used to support the non-structural portions of retention walls.

Another major local bullet train-related project about to start in Fresno involves the realignment of Highway 99 between Clinton and Ashlan avenues. Caltrans will be serving as the Rail Authority’s contractor on that project.

“Preliminary work is underway to be able to close the Clinton Avenue overcrossing so it can be replaced,” Tinoco said. Work related to this project also includes various improvements at Ashlan utility relocations and construction of a new retaining wall.

Perhaps the biggest change to the local landscape is expected to start taking shape some time in 2018 when the Rail Authority is hoping to break ground on Downtown Fresno’s new bullet train terminal.

The $68 million station will be located near Chukchansi Park on H Street between Fresno and Tulare streets on the block that used to be home to the old Greyhound bus terminal.

The station’s main entrance will front Mariposa Street, with another smaller entrance facing Chinatown.

“We are expecting to release an RFQ (Request for Qualifications) for station architectural design this spring,” Tinoco said. “This RFQ will be for a design-bid-build contract for the first stations that will make up the backbone of the high-speed rail program in the Central Valley.”

Tinoco said Authority and City of Fresno planning personnel are “working together” to develop a station area plan. “With funding support from the Authority, the City has coordinated and continues to coordinate community outreach and workshop meetings,” she added.

Meanwhile, in Kings County, high-speed rail construction also is about to shift into a higher gear.

This month, Dragados-Flatiron will begin work on Construction Package 2-3 (CP 2-3), the 65-mile stretch of the high-speed rail alignment that will run between East American Avenue in Fresno County to one-mile north of the Tulare-Kern County line.

Dragados-Flatiron, a joint venture comprised of New York City-based Dragados USA and Broomfield, Colorado-based Flatiron West, will be demolishing houses in Hanford that are in the path of the rail line and will also start identifying and marking Kings County utilities that will have to be relocated.

The start of high-speed rail work in Kings County is a bitter pill for many. Recent surveys show a majority of Kings County residents still oppose the bullet train project, in part, because of the large amount of agricultural land that will be taken out of production to make way for the rail line.


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