Tulare ponders aesthetics of Highway 99 interchange

Commercial Ave. interchange site of potential mural promoting Tulare

TULARE – Tulare is considering spicing things up at the Highway 99 interchange at Commercial Avenue. During the Jan. 12 Tulare city council meeting, a special study session was held to discuss potential aesthetic developments for the Commercial Avenue interchange that leads to the World Ag Expo, to better represent the city of Tulare before Caltrans begins construction.

Signage was a topic of discussion, which the city chose to recommend leaving space for a decision on specifics at a later time. The prospect of having a mural at the interchange surfaced, something councilman Jose Sigala supported.

“I think we could, in addition to the signage, have a nice mural there that would definitely let people know that this is the home of the World Ag Expo,” Sigala said. “The sign has enough space for four or five words, but the mural would be a lot more of an opportunity to really show how important the ag center is…to our community.”

With regards to a mural, graffiti and maintenance was a concern for Vice Mayor Terry Sayre.

“I’ve seen those desecrated quite a bit as you drive through LA,” Sayre said, “maintenance would be an issue with me, because all of that costs money. To me, the bottom line is the money, how much this will cost both in maintaining it and developing it.”

Mike Orosco, public works inspector with the City of Tulare’s engineering department, confirmed that around 65,000 vehicles travel through the South Tulare Interchange Project area daily. Donnette Silva Carter, CEO of the Tulare Chamber of Commerce, spoke on the importance of marketing the city of Tulare.

“The chamber is charged with marketing and promoting our community, so when we talk about brand, that’s going to be on the forefront of what my recommendation would be is making sure we have ‘Tulare’ there,” Silva Carter said. “We want to make sure we are putting the impression of Tulare on their mind, and that they are seeing that as they are going through.”

After city staff presented some options and price estimations from similar interchanges in the area, the council came to the conclusion to recommend mirroring the Cartmill Avenue interchange—a stripe across the bridge painted forest green, estimated at $6,000, decorative blocking at $120,000, raised bridge railing to create a monument effect at $35,000, green vinyl-coated fencing at $130,000 and stamped and stained decorative concrete at $50,000. The estimated costs are based on the costs associated with the Cartmill interchange, and are not necessarily reflected accurately to the South Tulare Interchange Project.

The current design calls for a Caltrans standard interchange with no aesthetic features, and Caltrans would need to be notified of any requests for aesthetic features before February for them to be considered.

A name change for Commercial Avenue was also discussed at the council meeting. International Agri-Center Way was the preferred option.

“I think it’s a great idea,” Silva Carter said, “our community is deeply rooted in agriculture, and so I do think that in addition to celebrating that we are home to World Ag Expo, and we have the year-round International Agri-Center, I think it’s also a testament to the roots of Tulare, and a celebration of agriculture and all it brings to the community.”

In September, the Tulare County Association of Governments (TCAG) in partnership with the Caltrans and the International Agri-Center announced it is receiving $16 million in federal grants to construct the South Tulare Interchange Project. The award is from the US Department of Transportation’s Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development (BUILD) Transportation Grants program. Those funds, in combination with TCAG funds and State Transportation Improvement Program funds will make up the other $36.8 million of the project’s $52.8 million price tag. TCAG has secured the necessary construction matching funding for the project from the half cent sales tax, Measure R, and the State Transportation Improvement Program (STIP).

In addition to the new interchange at Commercial Avenue on State Route 99, the project will also include construction of new auxiliary lanes on State Route 99 between Commercial and Paige that would alleviate congestion at the existing State Route 99/Paige Avenue interchange.

Caltrans is estimating the project design to be completed by Aug. 1, break ground by Oct. 3, 2022 and complete construction by July 1, 2025.

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