It’s been a long time coming, but Tulare County is finally ready to break ground on the widening of Avenue 280, known as Caldwell, through Visalia, and becoming Visalia Road near Farmersville and Exeter.
The first phase will widen Avenue 280 to four lanes from Highway 99 to the city limits of Visalia. The official groundbreaking will occur on Wednesday, August 23 at 10am in front of the Visalia First Assembly on the corner of Akers.
“It’s been about 10 years in the making, or so” said Reed Schenke, the county’s director of Resource Management. “We’re pretty excited.”
The goal is to eventually have four lanes from Highway 99 to Exeter. Through most of Visalia, the road is already four lanes. The city of Farmersville began work on its part earlier this year.
This first phase for the county will cost an estimated $11 million paid for largely by Measure R funds or other funding allotted through a connection with the measure. Measure R is a countywide measure passed in 2006 collecting ½ cent sales tax for 30 years, specifically tagged for transportation needs including road improvements. Because of Measure R, the county has been able to pledge the percentage needed to receive grant funding, which it had difficulty with prior to its passage.
This first phase is estimated to take approximately 16 months to complete – with utility companies already beginning to move power poles, Schenke said. Other underground utilities, irrigation pipes and the like will also have to be moved.
The second two phases – from Visalia to Farmersville and between Farmersville and Exeter are still a few years away, Schenke said.
“It’s been a long time coming,” said County Supervisor Chair Pete Vander Poel, who also commented on the congestion that has been on the rise between Highway 99 and Visalia.
“It’s important to have as many east and west corridors from 99 to the population centers for goods and people,” he said.
The widening eases passage to the southern alternative from Highway 198, he added, which will also add in safety.
Other projects that have been funded in part or entirely by Measure R funds include the roundabouts at Farmersville Blvd. along Highway 198, as well as the one at Naranjo Blvd. and Valencia Ave. in Woodlake; the Cartmill Ave. and Highway 99 interchange in Tulare; Plaza Drive widening Highway 198 auxiliary lanes in Visalia; widening of Road 80; and improvements at various railroad crossings around the county.