Tulare breaks ground on historic International Agri-Center Way

City of Tulare and other government agencies break ground on new interchange, improves East to West connectivity for travel and economic development

TULARE – After almost half a century, several members of the community and different associations of government joined together to break ground on the interchange that will change the way Tulare moves.

On June 26, the city of Tulare was joined by several individuals representing different agencies who all shared their support and gratitude that the South Tulare Interchange has finally reached a point of breaking ground. What began in 1971 as an idea has finally reached a point of shovels hitting the ground. According to Caltrans, the project is estimated to be completed in 2025. There have been several hiccups along the way, but this day in June marks a historical moment for Tulare, according to district two supervisor Pete Vander Poel.

“How often does it happen that an interchange is added to the existing highway systems in California? incredibly rare,” Vander Poel said. “But what the world Ag Expo provides for Tulare and provides on the 99 is the opportunity where that interchange makes sense. And we’re going to get that interchange and it’s going to be world class.”

This project will upgrade and improve traffic and goods movement at this highly traveled area in Tulare. According to deputy city manager Josh McDonnell, when this project began, it was all about East and West connectivity. The project became successful because of the partnerships between the city, Tulare County Association of Governments, the state and the federal government. It is a $58 million project that has been funded through a variety of ways including grants, land donation and more.

McDonnell said the city had a need for the connectivity, but the question was raised: how does it get paid for? As it turns out, the answer was a collaborative effort.

“There was a great partnership that occurred between the city, Chico CAD, Clara County Association of Governments, the feds and the state, who have all recognized this need and have been able to put together dollars from various pots of money to make the interchange happen,” McDonnell said.

According to a press release from Caltrans, funding for the project is comprised of $26.5 million from Tulare County Measure R; $18.9 million from the California State Regional Improvement Program; $16 million from the federal BUILD and TIGER programs; $9 million from SB 1; and $9.5 million in private funding.

Since the process began about 40 years ago, it has grown from connectivity to efficiency as well. It will connect Commercial Avenue from K street to Laspina street on the other side of Highway 99. The Tulare City Council voted to change the name from Commercial Avenue Interchange to International Agri-Center Way in May 2021.

This interchange opens several possibilities for Tulare. It will open thousands of acres of undeveloped land for warehousing and distribution type uses that would bring significant tax revenue and jobs to the community, according to Tulare’s annual report. Additionally, the interchange will improve traffic and travel to and from the Agri-Center during the International Ag Expo each year.

It doesn’t stop there either, as McDonnell said the Agri-Center is expanding. The Agri Center is becoming a location for all things equestrian, they are hosting additional events and projects throughout the year including large scale volleyball tournaments.

“(The Ag Expo is) not just doing a once a year event now,” McDonnell said. “They’re actually turning into a major equestrian event facility where folks are coming in to show horses and things like that, rodeos and even major volleyball tournaments.”

This project is also working alongside the big picture project of widening Highway 99 to six lanes all the way through Tulare. According to Caltrans, Highway 99 is expected to remain open during daytime hours, with all lanes of traffic available in each direction. Any closures are anticipated to take place during overnight hours with signed detours available.

Once International Agri-Center Way is completed, the next project in line is Paige Avenue. It is currently in its early stages of development, but will be updated as well.

“​​I can’t wait to send people to the World Ag Expo and tell them to get off on International Agri-Center Way instead of Paige [Avenue],” Vander Poel said. “For a few years, anyway; and then we’re going to get Paige done, it is going to be a lot better and it is going to help the entire city.”

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