Kingsburg hits roadblock with Golden State Boulevard project

Union Pacific Railroad’s improvement requests stall the Measure C Golden State Boulevard project

Golden State Blvd in Kingsburg where Measure C work begins. (Kenny Goodman)
Golden State Blvd in Kingsburg where Measure C work begins. (Kenny Goodman)
Darren Fraser
Published March 25, 2024  • 
11:00 am

KINGSBURG – A project funded by Measure C, started back in 2010 and spread out across 14 miles from American Avenue in Fowler to Mission Street in Kingsburg, is stuck because Union Pacific Railroad (UPR) won’t budge on their demands for improvements.

The problem, according to Kingsburg City Manager Alexander Henderson, is UPR’s insistence on treating the Golden State Boulevard Project, which also includes Selma and involves 20 railroad crossings, as a single entity; meaning, UPR expects the three cities and Fresno County to pay for upgrades to all 20 crossings – something, says Henderson, that Measure C was never intended to do.

“The intent of the Measure C funds is to improve transportation roadways and trails in Fresno County,” said Henderson. “Those taxpayer dollars were not intended to improve vast portions of the railroad.”

Henderson said the project was originally budgeted between $40 million and $50 million.

Fourteen years is a long time for any project to remain in the works. Henderson said the delays had to do with Measure C funding.

“It’s 14 miles and you’re coordinating that effort with three different cities and Fresno County,” he said. “Throw in COVID in 2020, and that pushed things out.”

But the main reason the project has languished, according to the cities, is UPR, which did not respond to inquiries from Mid Valley Times as of press time.

A TALE OF TWO RIGHT OF WAYS

“If you’re just looking at a regular street, there is the city’s right of way,” Henderson said. “Then, there’s the railroad’s right of way, and everything that’s in there – the track, the safety arms, the mechanicals that control the safety arms, the warning systems.”

UPR insists developers of any road project intruding upon UPR property – or right of way – must make improvements to UPR facilities. But under this one-touch-affects-all philosophy, Henderson said UPR wants improvements to facilities even if they are not directly impacted by the project. And the improvements to UPR facilities are very expensive.

He offered the following example for Kingsburg.

“Let’s say the Draper Street crossing by California and Simpson: none of the work in the Measure C project had anything to do with the railroad. We could have paved up to our right of way line and never come anywhere near their facilities. But because the work at Stroud does (come in contact), they want improvements at Draper Street.”

Henderson said UPR is leveraging those locations in order to demand improvements in other locations.

“It becomes very expensive in terms of what the contractor has to do to make those improvements. We understand those improvements are necessary in some locations,” he said. “When you take the cumulative of all those crossings across the 14 miles, basically, it makes the project untenable.”

UPR’s obduracy has not prevented the project from progressing. Henderson said this is evident to anyone who drives on Golden State Boulevard.

“When you drive that stretch of road and come to an intersection, you’ll see new pavement and then there’ll be old pavement,” he said. “You can clearly tell the delineation point. A decision was made by the construction team to get some of this going. We don’t want to delay the entire project.”

He said 80% of the Kingsburg portion of the project is complete.

PLAN B

At the March 20 Kingsburg City Council meeting, Henderson said the next meeting with UPR is in two weeks. If UPR refuses to change its position on the project, Henderson said an alternative is to create multiple smaller projects.

“We’ll carve out two locations per community,” he said. “Two for Kingsburg, two for Selma, two for Fowler. We basically break them out from this project. They’d still be funded by Measure C.”

The idea is for each city to engage UPR separately. In short, the cities would call UPR’s bluff.

“They may say, ‘You need to fix this other location as well.’ But we’ll say, ‘No, we’re talking to you about one singular location. We’re not talking about a corridor project.’ Basically, we’re trying to remove their leverage by stacking this as one project,” he said.

Henderson said the idea behind this approach is that UPR would lack statutory or legal resources to compel the cities to improve all UPR facilities. When asked if he believed UPR would agree to this, Henderson laughed.

“We don’t know,” he said. “There has been a lot of work to get the plans to where they’re at. Which is why there’s a desire to have an additional conversation with the railroad and try to get some resolution.”

Henderson said Kingsburg has six railroad intersections included in the project. If the city is forced to pursue the alternate plan, it would focus on the Stroud Avenue realignment and the Kamm/Bethel regrade. Henderson said by itself, the Stroud project involves millions of dollars. It is essential for Kingsburg that Measure C funds are available; otherwise, work could not be done.

“It would never happen with that funding,” he said. “We would need a major grant. Same for the Kamm/Bethel portion. Reconstruction. Regrade. Both need traffic signals. It’s expensive.”

Darren Fraser
Reporter