City drives home request for fed funding of highway project

Visalia City Council joins Tulare County, TCAG, CalTrans in request for $5 million from the federal government to begin building highway center at Caldwell and 99

VISALIA – Local leaders are pushing the federal government to pay the remaining portion of a funding to build a regional hospital at the southwestern edge of Visalia.

At its May 3 meeting, the Visalia City Council authorized staff to send a letter to U.S. Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA) seeking $5 million in federal funding for the Sequoia Gateway Commercial Center at Highway 99 and Caldwell Avenue. The center will house the future site of a Valley Children’s Medical Group Specialty Care Center. Kaweah Health Medical Center, formerly Kaweah Delta, has also announced its intention to build a facility at the center to address unmet patient needs in the area. The two hospitals plan on building on their long-term partnership as Valley Children’s staffs the Neonatal Intensive Care and Pediatrics units at Kaweah Health.

“Health Care is critical for all people. There is a shortage of specialized services for Tulare County residents,” the letter to the Senator reads. “The City of Visalia appreciates the opportunity to improve health care access for children of the region by completing this important project.”

Construction on the project is set to begin in August 2023 and has secured most of the $50 million needed from local and state sources. According to the staff report, the Tulare County Association of Governments has authorized $26 million in funding from Measure R, the half-cent sales tax increase for countywide transportation projects, $7 million from CalTrans, and $12 million in congestion mitigation and air quality improvement (CMAQ) funding from the Federal Highway Administration, due to its inclusion of two roundabouts. This leaves the project $5 million short of starting construction.

“I think this highway interchange directly benefits the city of Visalia so I fully support it,” Councilmember Brett Taylor said.

The city’s letter said the federal appropriations funding would help replace an unsafe stop-controlled interchange with two round abouts, provide a link to an existing class IV bike, a pedestrian and a transportation facility and improve on and off ramps to provide better and safer access for buses going to and from the facility.

“Currently, the interchange provides poor bike and no pedestrian facilities,” the letter states. “The proposed project would provide enhanced multi-modal options for traveling to and from the critical children’s facility and provide better access for economic development of an economically disadvantaged area.”

Proposed by partners Fred Ruiz and Bill Travis, the highway commercial center would be built in phases over the next eight to 10 years. Phase 1 of the project will total just under 13 acres and include a 60,000-square foot clinic for Valley Children’s Hospital and 22,950 square feet for two gas stations and four fast food restaurants. Phase 1 would also include nine electric vehicle charging stations. Phase 2 will include a total of 97 acres including 986,000 square feet in two additional fast food establishments as well as three hotels, three offices, two sit-down restaurants, a visitor center, and a 725,000-square foot regional retailer, such as Ikea, Bass Pro Shop, or even an online fulfillment center. Phase 2 would likely be built out in four sub-phases between 2021 and 2028. The remaining 12.9 acres would be used for a storm water basin and a potential waste water treatment plant along with roadway rights-of-way.

Developers have said that in its early stages, the Sequoia Gateway project could capture up to 15 percent of the $117 million in uncaptured highway commercial services locally, generating sales tax revenue and jobs.

“I think it’s a great addition for the city of Visalia, so I support this wholeheartedly,” Mayor Steve Nelsen said.

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