Visalia City Council brings road closure lessons, plans full circle
City Council relies on lessons learned from Demaree/Goshen project to plan next roundabout at Santa Fe and Tulare intersection
By Reggie Ellis @Reggie_SGN
VISALIA – A blighted and congested intersection will get a face lift next year.
At its April 15 meeting, the Visalia City Council approved a plan to construct a roundabout at the intersection of Tulare Avenue and Santa Fe Street. A roundabout was considered at the intersection because the streets are offset creating a confusing alignment with large gaps. It has been given a D grade by city staff.
The city has already obtained federal funding through the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) program to fund most of the construction and the design for the roundabout has already been completed. The only thing left to decide was how it should phase construction and how the interior circle of the roundabout should be landscaped.
City engineer Frank Centeno presented the council with two options for phasing. Option 1 would close the entire intersection for 13 weeks to allow the contractors to work quickly on demolition, relocation of utilities, manhole installations, grading, and concrete and pavement installation. Centeno said this option would establish detour routes along Giddings Street and Ben Maddox for north/south traffic and West Mineral King, West Noble Avenue and East Walnut Avenue for east/west traffic. Option 1 would cost an estimated $2 million.
Option 2 would keep the intersection partially open with road closures done in three phases over 19 weeks. For example, Phase 1 would close the east half of the intersection for 10 weeks and then the west portion of the intersection for 9 weeks. Detours will still be needed but residents would still have access to the intersection and the surrounding businesses on a more consistent basis. Option 2 would cost an estimated $2.3 million.
Councilmember Phil Cox said he liked Option 2 because it allowed businesses to have most amount of access to the intersection and customers during construction. The northwest corner of the intersection has a busy strip mall that includes Pizza Hut, the Olive Plaza Laundromat, Super 99¢ Plus More, EZ Pick & Go Liquor, and a Recycling Center. The southwest corner contains the Covenant Peace Church, the COPI Thrift Store, Candies La Canasta, RV Storage, and Central Valley Ag Exports Inc. at the Olive Plant Warehouse. The northeast corner contains the Visalia Adult Integrated Clinic – a County Mental Health facility, and a bus stop. The southeast corner is not developed along the Tulare Avenue frontage, but there are some multi-family units located adjacent to the vacant corner parcel.
Cox said business owners were very unhappy with how much the project to improve the intersection at Demaree Street and Goshen Avenue affected their bottom line.
“I don’t want people showing up five months later and asking us to pay them for lost business,” Cox said.
Councilmember Brian Poochigian countered that the partial closures and changing detours were more confusing for residents. He said closing the intersection and keeping detours the same throughout the project would be easier for drivers and businesses to adjust to.
“I got used to the detours and then it changed,” Poochigian said. “I think once people get used to it, it’s okay.”
The council agreed that the cheaper, less confusing option was better for all involved and voted 4-1 to go with Option 1. Cox cast the lone dissenting vote.
Construction on the project is set to begin in June 2020 and be completed by January 2021.
Rebecca Keenan, senior civil engineer for the city, presented three options for landscaping of the intersection. Keenan pointed out that the landscaping played a key role not only in the aesthetics but in the safety of the intersection as well. She said landscaping creates a break in headlight glare from oncoming vehicles, visually conveys a barrier that drivers, pedestrians, and cyclists should not attempt to cross, and limits long distance visibility to slow traffic.
The interior of the roundabout circle will include an outer ring consisting of a flat concrete apron allowing large semis to navigate the narrow turns, a six foot buffer zone between the apron and the landscaping, and the raised, landscaped interior circle, which will mound in the middle to a point six inches higher than the roadway.
Option 1 was an artistic railroad theme of a circle of waist high brick pillars connected by metal bands at a cost of $125,000. Option 2 incorporated native grasses and drought resistance shrubs, similar to the roundabout at Giddings and Shannon Parkway, at a cost of $60,000. And Option 3 was a hardscape combining gravel or river stones and stamped concrete, similar to the median on Caldwell Avenue west of Akers Street, at a cost of $20,000.
Councilman Phil Cox liked the idea of hardscaping which would cut down on the cost of annual maintenance, but adding large boulders to create a visual center piece in the middle. Councilmember Brian Poochigian disagreed saying the rocks and gravel only were “out of character for Visalia.” “People don’t want to drive in town and have it look like Arizona. They want it to look like Visalia.”
Councilmember Greg Collins suggested a happy medium between the two by combining boulders, and gravel with colorful yet drought resistant shrubs. Ultimately, the council settled on Option 2 with some additional gravel and rocks or boulders.