Council reroutes Hwy 63 conversation

City Council says it may consider taking back Court and Locust streets downtown if Caltrans considers realigning highway to another route

By Reggie Ellis

VISALIA – One councilmember decided to circle back on a recent city council decision and see if the rest of the members had changed its mind. One of them did, at least enough to keep the conversation going.

At its Jan. 6 meeting, the Visalia City Council voted to look into the possibility of taking back responsibility from the state for Court and Locust streets and Dinuba Boulevard between Highway 198 and the northern city limits. Currently those streets are part of the northern route of Highway 63, which is controlled by Caltrans. 

“I’d like to clarify this is simply to review the matter and bring back the pros and cons of this request so council will have information regarding the cost and the benefits,” Collins said. 

Collins has argued for the last month that state control of Highway 63 through downtown has created a number of ongoing issues, including higher speed limits, bureaucracy of encroachments, not pedestrian friendly and that the State won’t allow for certain improvements, such as bulb outs or planting of trees at intersections to slow traffic and make the downtown more pedestrian friendly. Collins also said taking back responsibility for the roadway would mean an opportunity to establish additional parking.

“We have an opportunity for slowing traffic on Court and Locust and make THE north part of Hwy 63 safer,” Collins said.

Collins first proposed the idea to the council on Dec. 2 but the council narrowly voted down his motion. Councilmember Phil Cox voted against the idea because of the ongoing cost of maintaining the roadway. Cox pointed out that the city would lose the majority of funding for maintenance of traffic signals on Court Street and Locust Street provided by CalTrans.

Vice Mayor Steve Nelsen, who also serves as president of the Downtown Visalians, said most property owners he talked to were not in favor of the proposal and that they were “fine with the way it is.” Councilmember Brian Poochigian cast the deciding vote to deny Collins’ request, but changed his vote the second time around due to the possibility of adding more parking spaces in downtown. 

“If you could facilitate 50 more parking stalls in downtown that is a big deal,” Collins said. “When I talk to folks downtown, the No. 1 thing they ask is ‘when are we going to get some more parking?’”

Collins said the request is not unprecedented. Several years ago when Houston Avenue was redeveloped in front of Golden West High School, he said Highway 216 was realigned. The rural route used to run from Court Street (Highway 63) in Visalia to Sierra Drive (Highway 198) in Lemon Cove but now ends on Lovers Lane in Visalia instead of Court Street. Collins suggested CalTrans may be interested in realigning Highway 63 from Court to Lovers Lane, freeing up an opportunity for the city to take control of its downtown roadways.

Realignment seemed to renew Cox’s interest in further discussion. He suggested sending a letter to Caltrans asking if they are interested in realigning 63 before putting any staff time into studying the matter further. Collins amended his motion to table the item until the city manager receives an answer from Caltrans. The motion passed 4-1 with Nelsen casting the lone dissenting vote.

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