As high-speed rail grinds to a halt, push to widen Valley highways gains momentum

As California lawmakers engage in a new round of debate over the merits of the state’s much-maligned high-speed rail project, Valley lawmakers are pushing to channel infrastructure investment to the places most needy.

The starting point? Highways.

Is the end of Death Trap 41 on the horizon?

For Fresno residents traveling to the South Valley or the Central Coast, a stretch of Highway 41 at the Fresno-Kings County line has been a notorious and deadly road.

The six-mile stretch of two-lane highway accounted for 35% of all vehicle fatalities in Fresno County on Highway 41, according to statistics compiled from a state accident database. California.

Funding to widen the freeway to its planned four-lane capacity was debated within the California Transportation Commission, but was ultimately scuttled during deliberations on CalTrans’s 2021 Inter-Region Transportation Improvement Program (ITIP).

Friday, Ass. Jim Patterson and Fresno County officials celebrated news that CalTrans has included $19 million in its proposed 2022 Interregional Transportation Improvement Program.

The funding package, expected to be voted on by the California Transportation Commission in December, would provide the building blocks to fund

Efforts to secure funding also included Rep. David Valadao (R – Hanford), a member of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, who made a request for transportation infrastructure in the 2021 budget season.

If funding is secured through the ITIP process, the remaining $23 million would come from a $10 state-authorized local transportation fund and Measure C.

The timing of an expansion of Highway 41 into its death trap could not have been better timed as Fresno County officials plan to send Measure C – the county’s major road improvement sales tax – to another 20-year extension.

“That’s the power that Measure C brings,” Fresno County Transportation Authority Chief Mike Leonardo said. “With just a little money from Measure C, we are able to leverage those other sources of funding.”

With approval from the California Transportation Commission, the project would begin construction in 2025.

And what about a widening of Highway 99?

Late last week, Valley representatives in the California Legislature called on Governor Gavin Newsom to complete the upgrade and widening of Highway 99, one of the Valley’s two main thoroughfares. central.

In a letter sent to Newsom, lawmakers called for a 15-year plan to fund and complete the expansion of Highway 99 along its total length of 274 miles.

As it stands, eight segments of the freeway, amounting to 35 miles in total, are incomplete, serving as a choke point for traffic traversing the length of the Golden State.

It is also a safety hazard. Highway 99 is consistently one of the deadliest highways in the United States, if not the deadliest

Each of the unfinished segments needing expansion are in Merced, Madera, or Tulare counties, the letter says.

“Critics oppose the construction of more freeway lanes and the expansion of traffic lanes in general,” reads the letter, led by Sen. Melissa Hurtado (D-Sanger). “With respect, this view is shortsighted when it comes to the nation’s busiest national highway.”

Jose P. Rogers