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Slew of major projects slated for Porterville in 2013
A slew of major capital projects scheduled to either break ground or make significant progress this year have city officials looking to sunny days ahead.
“Porterville is looking forward to a brighter economic forecast as we begin this year,” said Porterville Mayor Virginia Gurrola, adding that one of the first projects to begin construction is the widening of the Plano Street bridge at the Tule River in May.
The long-awaited project was meant to break ground in the fall of 2011 but was delayed because of further state-required environmental review. The more than $9.3 million project involves the widening of the existing bridge from two to four lanes, the construction of pedestrian sidewalks on both sides, and reconstruction of the street approaches.
The Highway Bridge Program, established by the Federal Highway Administration to rehabilitate existing bridges, will pay for about 98 percent of the project costs. Bond money and local transportation funds, essentially gas tax dollars, will cover the remaining costs. City officials said they expect the project will improve access from Highway 190 to Olive Avenue and, ultimately, to the new courthouse.
Porterville City Manager John Lollis said that many of the upcoming projects will help improve connectivity between downtown and the $93 million South County Justice Center, scheduled to open in October.
The new four-story, 96,000-square-foot courthouse, which received initial funding in 2007, broke ground in late February 2012. State and city officials have said it will not only replace the current overcrowded Porterville Courthouse, but that it will also pump approximately $3 million annually into the local economy and contribute significantly to the revitalization of downtown Porterville.
Porterville City Councilman Pete McCracken said he thinks that the completion of the courthouse will spur downtown development and said there are already ancillary services gearing up to come to the area.
A $446,000 TEA (Transportation Enhancement Activities) grant from the California Department of Transportation will help pay for pedestrian walkway improvements along Oak and Garden avenues, which officials say will also facilitate pedestrian traffic from the courthouse to Main Street, and vice versa.
Enhancements to Oak Avenue will include the removal of damaged concrete sidewalk, the construction of a 10-foot wide pedestrian walkway with decorative brick or stamped and colored concrete. Improvements also include the planting of Pistachio trees, and the installation of nostalgic-style street lamps, identical to the existing lights found along Main Street, benches, a full irrigation system and a mural. The mural will capture the founding of the 150-year-old city. The project will cost roughly $398,000 with $224,000 in TEA funds covering more than 88 percent of the expenses and Measure R — Tulare County’s half-cent sales tax — covering the remainder.
Enhancements to Garden Avenue will be the same as the ones along Oak Avenue, minus the mural. Total estimated project costs are $477,000, with the TEA grant covering about 88 percent of the costs and Measure R taking care of the rest.
Lollis said the two projects are currently in the design phase and will likely go to construction in late 2013, early 2014.
A new animal shelter and public safety facility — two major capital projects that have been shelved time and again due to funding issues — are supposed to make serious headway this year.
Porterville Public Works Director Baldo Rodriguez said the animal shelter’s design was completed in 2011 but said the project was held over because he and his staff were never given the go ahead to advertise for bids by the Porterville City Council. Since then, some aspects of the plans have become outdated.
“If I’m given the go ahead, I will hand the plans over to the consultant to upgrade the plans to meet the current code,” Rodriguez said, adding that one of the issues that remains outstanding is the mitigation of an elderberry bush, home to the endangered Valley elderberry longhorn beetle.
The new shelter, as it is currently designed, will be located across from the city’s corporation yard and will include a parking lot, office buildings and 80 to 120 modular kennels and will cost between $1.5 million to $1.7 million. Rodriguez said he expects the matter to go before the council before it hits budget season in July.
Plans for a new 12,500-square-foot public safety station at the southeast corner of Jaye Street and Poplar Avenue were completed in December and are currently under review by city staff, Rodriguez said.
“As soon as the council asks us to go to bid, we will do so,” he said.
The building will mainly serve as a fire department with two bays for large fire engines, boarding for firefighters, a kitchen and a small training room. For police, the building will also have a substation, an interview room, an evidence room and a lobby, Rodriguez said.
The project’s total estimated cost is $5.2 million, Rodriguez said.
Before the station can move forward, the city’s public works department will advertise for bids on the construction of a roundabout at Jaye Street and Montgomery Avenue, followed by the construction of curb, gutter and sidewalks.
The public safety station was part of the initial 5-year expenditure plan for Measure H — the city’s voter-approved half-cent sales tax for public safety and literacy program. While all staffing components of the plan have been implemented, the project has been continually postponed due to the lack of sufficient funds.
“We definitely have to get something to move forward but it’s hard to say when that will be,” McCracken said. “That’s something the council is going to have to consider. One of the biggest problems there is finding the funding.”
Gurrola said that with a number of business prospects such as the construction of a Walgreens Pharmacy at Henderson Avenue and Prospect Street and with several industrial/manufacturing inquiries for potential sites, she is hopeful more jobs will come to the area.
“We understand that many families and individuals are still struggling, but the City Council will continue to seek ways of improving the economic health of the community,” she said.