Coming around to a difficult intersection

City holds grand opening for roundabout at the intersection of Santa Fe St. and Tulare Ave.

VISALIA – Police motorcycles, fire engines, public buses and city work trucks circled the intersection at Santa Fe Street and Tulare Avenue on April 8.

The parade of city vehicles from nearly every department was not due to some large scale emergency but rather part of a grand opening of the redesigned intersection at Santa Fe Street and Tulare Avenue on April 8. The intersection is crucial to the city’s traffic flow as Santa Fe connects residents in the city’s southeast to downtown and Tulare Avenue connects six schools from Pinkham to Akers. It was also difficult to navigate due to its misalignment and uneven approaches.

Coming around to a difficult intersection
Supervisor Amy Shuklian, Mayor Steve Nelsen and Supervisor Pete Vander Poel, chair of the Tulare County Association of Governments, hold a mini ribbon cutting with Vander Poel’s children James, 3, and Emme, 4.Reggie Ellis

Mayor Steve Nelsen led the ceremony and was joined by city councilmember Brett Taylor and three members of the Tulare County Board of Supervisors, Amy Shuklian, Larry Micari and Pete Vander Poel. The intersection happens to be on the boarder of Shuklian’s District 3, central Visalia, and Micari’s District 1, which stretches from east Visalia to Three Rivers. Vander Poel’s district isn’t near the project, but he is chair of the Tulare County Association of Governments, the county’s transportation authority.

“This is a project that finished on budget and ahead of schedule,” Mayor Nelsen said.

Work on the $4.3 million project began on Dec. 2, 2020 and finished last week, a month ahead of the original soft opening scheduled for May. Public Works Director Nick Mascia praised work crews for efficiently completing the project despite obstacles of social distancing and weather.

“The Public Works Department took on this project during a world wide pandemic,” Mascia said.

One of the few silver linings in the pandemic is there were less cars on the road, allowing cities to get a jump on road projects to make morning commutes smoother once things get back to normal. It was especially important for the roundabout which required Santa Fe Street to be closed from Cypress Avenue to Paradise Avenue and Tulare Avenue to be closed from Bridge Street and Burke Street for several months.

Just over half of the $4.3 million project was 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 came 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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