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Residents react to Highway 65 expressway plans
Over 100 people turn out for meeting
EXETER — It was opening night on Thursday for Caltrans as more than 100 people, some not happy with the plans, came to discuss the proposed Highway 65 expressway alternatives at the Exeter Veteran’s Memorial Building.
Design engineers, the project manager and right-of-way officials were on hand to speak with residents and community members. According to Project Manager Judy Aguilar this is the third open meeting for the project which has two alternatives and a no-build alternative.
Business operator Teresa Khachigian-Ritchie of Cal-Western Farming Company and Office Manager Lucy Poyoreno were unhappy with the alternatives.
“We oppose [them.] We’re a farm in the property area that they want to take in alternative one or two,” said Ritchie, who explained that the company owned 400 acres of wine grapes which would be affected. “It’s kind of if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.”
Poyoreno added that Caltrans should address the issue of lost revenue.
“With taking it out of town how would it affect revenue?” asked Poyoreno.
The meeting was to get input on the plans to make Highway 65 an expressway all the way from Porterville to Highway 198. Where Highway 65 curves into Highway in 137 in Lindsay is where the new expressway will begin and the highway would eventually bypass the community of Exeter. Officials said the roadway would be similar to Highway 65 between Lindsay and Porterville.
Over at the alternative one table, Caltrans Senior Designer Jun Xo explained the alternative to Merle Bailey a resident of Tooleville. It would parallel Spruce Avenue/Road 204, would run to Route 198 and would veer from Mariposa Street in Lindsay to Spruce.
“I’m concerned about the impact of the new expressway. I live in Tooleville. Alternative one at closest part to the community is only going to be 128 feet from community,” said Bailey, who added that he preferred alternative two as it will not affect the community as much as alternative one would.
Alternative two would also parallel Road 204/Spruce Avenue, but on the west side and would also run to State Route 198.
“Alternative two will push the expressway a little over 1,300 feet away from the face of the community. Having it farther away, the visual impact of having a freeway will be lessened by the sound. Also, the air pollution/particles will be less,” stated Bailey, who is also concerned about the changes in traffic on Spruce. His choice is alternative two.
“Alternative two is the lesser of the two evils for the community,” added Bailey.
At table two, Chris Brewer, the Caltrans architectural historian who owns three businesses in Exeter, and Exeter resident Mike Germaine, were in deep discussion of alternative two.
“I live right on Rocky Hill where the high school is at. [I’m] interested in how the highway is going to help serve [the] businessmen and merchants in the area of Exeter,” said Germaine, a retiree.
Brewer has no official stance on the alternatives, but is realistic.
“[The] reduced traffic flow into town is a concern, [but there’s] nothing I can do to make it better or worse,” said Brewer.
Yeshi Amente, a Caltrans design engineer, explained the differences in the alternatives.
“Alternative one is more close to Spruce Avenue. Alternative two goes a little bit away from Spruce. Roadwise, both are the same, [but] cost-wise, alternative one is cheaper,” said Amente.
Ecologically speaking, the project would not affect the environment in a large way.
“[The] impact is minimal,” said Caltrans biologist Jaimme Cornwell.
Overall, Aguilar was pleased with the turnout.
“It went well. [I’m] glad that a lot of people showed up. The purpose of these meetings is to get input,” he said. Aguilar added that once all of the comments are reviewed then Caltrans would work with the Tulare County Association of Governments, (TCAG) to make a decision.
If either alternative is chosen the construction would not begin until 2019.