Visalia City Council comes ’round on landscaping intersection island

Reggie Ellis

City Council moves forward with plans to finish landscaping for roundabout at five-way intersection in north Visalia

VISALIA – It’s been more than a decade since a roundabout was constructed at the intersection of Houston Avenue and Santa Fe Street and yet there is still work to be done.

That work came at the behest of a northeast Visalia resident who has been urging the city council for the last year to landscape the center of the roundabout, which is currently just dirt. Last fall, Raymond Macareno began attending Visalia City Council meetings to ask why the roundabout was never completed. He said it was fully funded when it was built in October 2019 but has never been landscaped, unlike roundabouts in Farmersville, Woodlake and Lindsay.

“We’ve already started working on a new roundabout at Tulare Avenue and Santa Fe when this project hasn’t even been finished,” Macareno told the council in April.

The council heard his pleas to complete the roundabout and voted to take its first step toward landscaping the intersection island. At its Oct. 5 meeting, the city council instructed staff to begin working on a plan to landscape the roundabout with low shrubs, boulders and fountain grass. The council considered three options before making their decision and ultimately voted on the cheapest, but the $50,000 price tag was still more than the council wanted to spend.

“It does need to be landscaped, but at $50,000 I’m a little concerned,” Vice Mayor Steve Nelsen said. “I think you guys are real high on the cost, just to be honest.”

The council did offers suggestions to reduce the cost of the project, including using gravel instead of concrete for city work trucks to drive on and not using any trees, which staff said it was concerned the roots could interfere with utility lines beneath the surface if not properly maintained.

Macareno spoke during the work session and asked if the council could allow some public input into the design and do a public dedication once the project is complete.

Nelsen said he didn’t want to continue to delay the project and told staff to move ahead with the project. Poochigian seconded the motion but it died in a 2-2 with Councilmember Phil Cox absent. Nelsen made a second motion to approve the least expensive option but also directed staff to meet with Macareno, and possibly a small group of other citizens, to come up with ideas for the design of the landscaping. That motion passed.

“I’d be supportive of getting some input,” Councilmember Greg Collins said. “The more people look at something the better design is at the end.” Collins also suggested coming up with a landscaping theme that could be carried out at this and any future roundabouts.

Circling a new project

Visalia is also moving ahead with plans for a new roundabout at the intersection of Santa Fe Street and Tulare Avenue. At its Sept. 21 meeting, the council awarded a $370,000 contract with NV5, Inc. for construction management, inspection and testing, surveying and public outreach functions. NV5 is currently consulting on widening Akers Street as part of the Highway 198 interchange project.

The intersection is currently a four-way stop and is congested due to the north and south legs of Santa Fe being offset from each other. The misalignment means cars have farther to travel to cross the intersection which gets a C grade Level of Service in the peak morning hour and a “D” during the peak evening hour. If left unchanged, the staff reported the intersection may continue to deteriorate to a failing grade.

Construction of the roundabout will impact through traffic, adjacent business, and residents during the estimated four months of construction. In April, the city council decided the intersection will be closed to through traffic for up to 70 consecutive working days to complete the majority of the work as quickly as possible. During that time, through traffic will be detoured to Ben Maddox Way, Mineral King Avenue, Noble Avenue, Walnut Avenue, and Conyer Street. An existing bus route be temporarily rerouted to run north on Burke Street, then west on Laurel Avenue.

The city is planning public outreach to inform residents of closures and delays including text notifications, press releases, and workshops meetings similar to those used on the Akers interchange and Demaree and Goshen intersection projects. Staff is working with NV5 to hold a kick-off meeting to address questions from the public.

Just over half of the $4.3 million project will be funded by Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) funding from the state for projects designed to reduce traffic congestion and improve air quality, particularly in areas of the country that do not attain national air quality standards. Roundabouts improve safety and reduce air pollution. According to studies by the Federal Highway Administration, roundabouts reduce overall collisions by 37%, pedestrian collisions by 40%, injury collisions by 75% and fatal collisions by 90%. By reducing traffic congestion, the roundabouts have resulted in shorter driving times for motorists and reduced fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions, which help improve air quality. It also prevents gas-powered cars from idling, when engines produce the highest amount of emissions.

The rest of the funding will come from Measure R, the half-cent transportation tax approved countywide in 2006, and from the city’s own Transportation Impact Fund set aside for streets, roads and bike paths.

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