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$56 Mil Projects Offer Tulare Big Boost

Who says stimulus is a bad word?

If it were not for local taxpayer-funded Measure R and the Tulare County Association of Governments (TCAG) the City of Tulare would likely just have to wait some more to begin building two large transportation projects with a construction spending impact of $56 million that are key to the town’s business future.

The long awaited projects, the $18.5 million Bardsley railroad crossing  underpass and the $37.7 million Cartmill freeway interchange off Hwy 99 each face a “funding gap” says city manager Don Dorman in two early August letters to the TCAG board.

Each project could move forward this fall with construction next year  now that a request was approved at TCAG’s Aug 20 meeting.

The interchange project alone could spur millions of dollars in new office,residential and retail projects that are already approved beyond the $56 million in construction work.

Bardsley Project

Regards the Bardsely grade separation,Dorman says while the city has secured $7.1 million from the California Transportation Commission, has a commitment from Union Pacific railroad to pay $1.6 million and has spent $1.4 in Measure R funds, the local match is still short $6.5 million.

The city requested TCAG approve the $6.5 million to meet a state deadline to award a construction contract by November of this year.

The project should safely speed commerce in this town divided by a busy freight rail line. The city recently completed a second rail crossing at Cartmill. Both grade separations should help the city’s Downtown.

TCAG’s staff report suggests approval of the funds amounts to juggling of monies from future budget years and adding expected $2.2 million in project cost savings, they would borrow in a short term loan from the Tulare County treasurer – resulting in funding that “would not affect any other Measure R project.”

Measure R, a one-half cent sales tax approved by Tulare County voters in 2006, provides a 50% local match to state funds to “leverage additional state funding” says TCAG director Ted Smalley, also allowing flexibility to move projects up to take advantage of state funding availability.

This month’s TCAG agenda also included news that the Measure R funds has enjoyed a 12% increase in revenues vs last year on improved sales tax returns around the county.

The second – even larger project – the reconstruction of the Cartmill interchange – in the works since 2005 – promises to stimulate regional retail commercial and business activity along the freeway and at all four quadrants leading to an increase in sales tax and property tax revenues from expected development projects.

Dorman – in his letter – asks the TCAG board to decide “whether the city of Tulare should proceed with the right-of-way acquisition” using $5.1 million already budgeted by TCAG using Measure R funds now budgeted for the 12/13 and 13/14 fiscal years.

Without funds for the ROW the chance to receive state funds for construction any time soon is reduced, says Dorman.

Dorman points to an additional $5 million in “savings” from current Hwy 99 widening projects and other possible funding that still leaves a$4.5 million “funding gap’”based on the engineer estimate for the big project at $37.7 million.

The state is sharing the cost savings that have been coming in for the past several years on highway projects from hungry contractors and Tulare hopes to garner $5 million from CalTrans at some point.

Deadlines Loom For Cartmill Project

With some deadlines bearing down, Dorman says he plans to seek city council approval to move the project to construction based on TCAG’s decision at a Tulare City Council meeting to be held  September 4.

CalTrans plans to certify the EIR on the project August 29.

City Engineer Mike Whitlock says the schedule calls for advertising the project for bidding in January 2013 with construction set to start in April. The city needs to acquire about 30 acres on all four corners of the freeway interchange to do the reconstruction work. Offers to buy the property are going out now according to the project schedule.

Still, the city will need to come to an agreement with property owners who met July 31 with the city.”We are optimistic we will come to an agreement with the property owners” states Whitlock.

Tulare also seeks assurances from TCAG that if the project is delayed   for an extended time the city should not be found in default because of a project interruption.

According to the project schedule the interchange reconstruction would be complete by February 2014. Being built at the same time will be the Bardsley underpass  that could start construction in early 2013 on an 18 month construction pace.

Put them together and you have a nice shot in the arm to Tulare starting early next year and there after. Several major projects are approved to move forward near the Cartmill interchange that have been waiting for some certainty of better access that are expected to get the green light now.

Those include a major shopping center planned by the Lagomarsino group, a new bank headquarters who recently purchased land and a large retirement living complex.The nearby outlet mall should also expand.

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