Akers project comes in under budget

City finishes improvements to Hwy 198 interchange at Akers with a $2.4 million surplus

VISALIA – One of Visalia’s largest road projects took most of the year but it didn’t take up all of the budget.

At its Dec. 21 meeting, the Visalia City Council approved a notice of completion for upgrades to the Highway 198 interchange at Akers Street. The project, which began in January and was not officially completed until this month, widened Akers and the eastbound freeway on ramp to accommodate adding dual left hand turn lanes to Akers Street for both the north and southbound lanes. The total cost of the project was $7.5 million, about $2.4 million under budget.

Vice Mayor Phil Cox asked what the plan was for the $2.4 million surplus. The staff report said the project was funded by a variety of revenue sources including Gas Tax funds, state road funds and Measure R, the half-cent sales tax approved by Tulare County voters in 2006 for local road projects. The project expended all of the $290,000 in Gas Tax funds and $2.6 million in state funds but only $4.6 of the $7 million in Measure R funding.

Ted Smalley, executive director of the Tulare County Association of Governments, which oversees Measure R funding, said the money will go back into the Measure R fund for future projects along the Highway 198 corridor.

That’s good news for Visalia as most of its on and off ramps are expected to fail state standards for traffic flow by 2040. A 2017 CalTrans report showed the Lovers Lane interchange was already operating at an F (excessive delays and long queues) while Ben Maddox, Mooney Boulevard and Demaree Street interchanges are currently graded as Ds but expected to be downgraded to Fs by 2040. The report estimated the $2.4 million surplus could potentially fund fixes for either Ben Maddox or Demaree. The Ben Maddox project has been estimated at $1-4 million for improvements including installing a traffic signal light and adding 300-foot long westbound left turn lanes on Mineral King and the westbound off ramp. The Demaree project initiating would add two westbound lanes on the Mineral King Avenue, one for traffic coming off the highway and another for through traffic for an estimated $1-$4 million. Costs for Lovers Lane and Shirk were in the $20-$28 million range.

The city council also approved a notice of completion for the interchange’s sister project, also done by Yarbs Grading and Paving. The rehabilitation project reconstructed Akers from Mineral King Avenue through Hillsdale Avenue and updated wheelchair ramps at those intersections. The final cost of the project was $865,953, which came in nearly $35,000 under budget. The remaining funds will be returned to Measure N’s roads fund, which covered 100% of the cost.

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