Visalia City Council slams the brakes on request to reroute highway

City Council denies another request by Councilmember Greg Collins to shift Hwy 63 from Court/Locust to Ben Maddox

VISALIA – A councilmember’s request to study shifting Highway 63 from Court/Locust streets to Lovers Lane was denied last month.

On July 20, Councilmember Greg Collins asked the council to consider requesting Caltrans relinquish control of Highway 63 through downtown on Court and Locust streets from Highway 198 to the St. John’s River. The item was actually just a request to put the discussion on a future meeting’s agenda.

Collins has argued since December that state control of Highway 63 through downtown has created a number of ongoing issues, including higher speed limits, bureaucracy of encroachments, that it’s 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. More recently, Collins said the wider truck route through downtown has made it more difficult to accommodate outdoor dining for downtown restaurants.

Collins told the council he would like to set aside funding to study the pros and cons of relocating SR 63 to Ben Maddox Way, similar to a $50,000 study the council completed earlier this year to decide whether or not to extend one-way traffic on Main and Center streets. Collins said Ben Maddox would send large trucks and their noise through a more industrial part of the city which would improve pedestrian safety and quality of life for people and businesses in the downtown.

Highway 216 used to run from Court Street in Visalia to Sierra Drive (Highway 198) in Lemon Cove but now ends on Lovers Lane in Visalia instead of Court Street. Realigning Highway 63 from Court to Lovers Lane could free up an opportunity for the city to take control of its downtown roadways.

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.” He made a motion to not only deny the request but to put a moratorium on the item after it had been proposed by Collins several times before.

“It’s time we need to put this to bed once and for all,” Nelsen said. “I don’t support this at all. I think it’s the fifth time I have not supported it.”

A motion to deny Collins’ request passed 3-2, with Link and Collins voting no.

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