CalTrans plans to widen Lovers Lane

State agency presents plan to widen, repave and improve Lovers Lane (SR 216) from Mineral King Ave. to Houston Ave.

VISALIA – Visalia is a ways off from untangling its worst intersection, the Highway 198 interchange at Lovers Lane, but there is a hope that Lovers Lane north of Highway 198 will see improvements in the next three years.

CalTrans presented plans to widen Lovers Lane, also known as State Route 216, from Mineral King Avenue to Houston Avenue earlier this year and are expected to complete its environmental studies for the rehabilitation project sometime next month. Ernie Penuna, a senior engineer with CalTrans, described the project to the Visalia City Council at its April 6 meeting. In addition to repaving the roadway, Penuna said the project will also widen Lovers Lane to accommodate a bike lane, realign right turns at some intersections, ADA ramps at intersections and install new sidewalks to fill in the gaps along the state route.

The plan was presented to the city council back in April and councilmembers were leery of how the widening of the Lovers Lane would affect property owners and the tree-lined median.

Councilmember Phil Cox said he was concerned about the safety of homeowners on the property with the roadway being pulled to within 15 feet of people’s front doors. He said homes will feel like they are right at the roadway, where cars drive an average of 45 to 55 mph, with the amount of additional right-of-way needed to widen the state route.

Councilmember Greg Collins said expanding the roadway by an additional eight feet would take out the mature trees in the median north of Highway 198. According to the staff report, widening the street may also call for cutting feeder roots for the trees and narrowing the median may mean branches will have to be trimmed down, which could put enough stress on the trees to cause death or disease.

“Caltrans is weighing all of the options related to the medians, including the possible elimination of all landscaping,” the staff report stated.

Collins said if CalTrans was willing to break from its typical width standards and only widen the road by seven feet the trees along the median could be saved.

“I’m not interested in just oleanders and shrubs,” Collins said. “Don’t let the manual drive the appearance of the project.”

Vice Mayor Steve Nelsen agreed, saying they could reduce the width of the sidewalk or adjust other improvements to save the trees.

“There are some established trees I would hate to see them removed,” Nelsen said.

Penuna said the trees between Duran Drive and Mill Creek Parkway would likely come out but said there should be enough right-of-way to save trees between Goshen Avenue and Houston Avenue. The street rehabilitation project is estimated to cost about $26 million.

Hussein Senan, project manager for CalTrans, said the public review of environmental documents should begin in November with a final environmental impact report being issued in May 2021. He said CalTrans was looking to break ground on the project in the fall of 2023.

The widening project is separate but related to CalTrans’ plan to improve the interchange between two state routes, 216 and Highway 198. In May 2016, Visalia and CalTrans staff held a joint public hearing to discuss improvements to the interchange. In order to solve congestion at the Lovers Lane interchange of Highway 198, the city and (CalTrans) are proposing improvements and changes at the intersections of Lovers Lane and Noble Avenue, Lovers Lane and Highway 198 eastbound ramp, Mineral King and Highway 198 westbound ramp and Lovers Lane and Mineral King. The proposed improvements include:

  • Lovers Lane/Noble: Remove the raised median; add a second left-turn lane to the southbound and northbound approaches on Lovers Lane; construct a second eastbound lane; construct a westbound right-turn lane on Noble; reconstruct signals; upgrade existing ramps to current standards.
  • Lovers Lane/Hwy 198: remove the raised median on Lovers Lane; construct a right-turn lane on the eastbound off-ramp; construct a right-turn lane on Lovers Lane for the eastbound on-ramp; reconstruct the signals; upgrade existing ramps to current standards.
  • Lovers Lane Undercrossing: Remove raised median; extend existing left-turn lanes in both directions; remove existing return walls and sidewalks behind a curtain wall; add bike lanes; install dedicated right turn lane on Lovers Lane to Mineral King.
  • Lovers Lane/Mineral King: Remove raised median on Lovers Lane; add a second southbound left-turn lane on Lovers Lane; construct a second eastbound receiving lane; reconstruct a northbound right-turn lane on Mineral King; reconstruct signals and upgrade ramps to current standards.
  • Mineral King/Hwy 198: Add a westbound left-turn lane; construct a continuous right-turn lane from Mineral King to the highway westbound on-ramp.

Originally proposed with a $60 million price tag in 2016 to close a portion of Mineral King affecting both homes and businesses, the current project relies on a future planned highway interchange at Tower Road (Road 148), less than a mile east of Lovers Lane to relieve congestion at the Lovers Lane interchange. The new project is estimated to cost $21.5 million. The California Transportation Commission approved for the design and environmental phase of the project to be funded through the State Highway Operation and Protection Program (SHOPP) fund. It is anticipated the design and right-of-way for the project could be completed by early 2023, with bidding and construction complete by the middle of 2025.

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