Visalia greenlights plans for major Lovers Lane project

(Rigo Moran)

VISALIA – Big changes are coming to the intersection of Lovers Lane and Mineral King Avenue after Visalia City Council approved a redesign plan at its latest meeting.

The intersection in question has been one of the most troublesome in the city for many years, and as the population has grown, problems have become more pronounced. The intersection often backs up with traffic and vehicles exiting from Highway 198 having nowhere to go, leading to traffic backing up on the freeway and creating a dangerous situation for drivers.

The new plan has been in the works since 2015 and will see new turn lanes added to Noble and Mineral King on Lovers Lane, as well as a complete redesign of the offramp to Lovers Lane. The result will be that Mineral King will no longer connect to Lovers Lane. Instead, vehicle traffic on Mineral King will reroute onto East Strapp Avenue.

Engineers will also redesign the sidewalks on Lovers Lane as they pass beneath the freeway. The new design will create a barrier between the road and the pedestrian access, allowing for a larger path to be used by bicycles and pedestrians. A walking path will also be established from Mineral King and E. Strapp to Lovers Lane.

The project is anticipated to begin in September. The first phase will include covering a culvert on the south side of the 198, which can only be done during the dry season, expected to be between September and December.

Shavonne Conley, project engineer at Caltrans, explained to The Sun-Gazette that project developers initially had two options. One option would have required the city to remove several businesses and homes at an estimated cost of more than $60 million.

The second option is the one that the developers selected. It required that portions of three yards along E Strapp be purchased, but otherwise not disrupt the existing residences or either of the gas stations on the south side of Highway 198. Approximately 180 trees will be removed and then replanted following the completion of the project.

A major goal of the redesign is to create a better flow of traffic. One stop sign will ultimately be removed from the intersection and engineers believe that adding larger turn lanes will prevent traffic backups. The median that is on Lovers Lane currently will be removed along with the sidewalks that currently exist to allow for an additional lane of traffic in each direction.

The development of the project design required significant input from numerous partners. Conley explained that among the challenges in the design is the location of a power pole that connects to a power station and feeds power to residences, a SoCalGas facility, and transmission lines for telephones owned by AT&T.

Engineers expect the project to take about 18 months to construct. Traffic disruptions in the area were a factor in the design and development of the plan. Conley explained that some of the work will be done at night to prevent shutting down lanes of traffic and daytime work will only be done between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. to avoid creating a bottleneck with parents picking up and dropping off children at the three schools on Lovers Lane.

There is currently no estimate on the final cost of the project and a contractor has yet to be selected to do the work, but Conley said funds from Measure R totaling $2.2 million and CalTrans funds of $20.9 million are allocated for the work.

A future project that is still in the early stages of planning will create an interchange at Rd 148 that will help to take pressure off of Lovers Lane and reduce traffic.

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