Fresno’s 60-Foot HSR Viaduct Gets Noticed
If you’ve ever been to Oakland or Berkeley, or driven through the MacArthur Maze just east of the Bay Bridge toll plaza, you’ve probably seen the massive freeway viaduct shown below in one of the few images I could find of it:
The viaduct above the roadway (viewed from the transition road from I-580 west to the Bay Bridge) is the transition road from I-880 north to I-80. Opened in 1998, it’s sometimes known in Caltrans publications as the “East Bay Viaduct.” At its highest point it soars at least 80 feet above the ground. The viaduct can be easily seen from many vantage points in the East Bay, especially the Berkeley/Oakland Hills. After 12 years, it has faded into the landscape, less noticeable by most travelers than the Golden Gate, Mt. Tam, or Yerba Buena Island.
I mention this as precedent for the discussion of Russell Clemings’ Fresno Bee article on the proposed 60-foot viaduct through downtown Fresno carrying high speed rail over streets and Union Pacific tracks, roughly adjacent to Highway 99:
A decade from now, one of Fresno’s loftier views might be from the platform of its high-speed train station….
Like the rest of the high-speed line downtown, it would be elevated 60 feet from ground level to the tracks….
It wouldn’t be limited to downtown. Plans call for it to begin rising from ground level at Malaga Avenue, where the high-speed line would lie just west of the existing Burlington Northern Santa Fe tracks.
By the time it reached Central Avenue, the trackbed would be perched atop a row of pillars spaced about 120 feet apart.
Following the Union Pacific tracks north from Calwa, it would remain at 60 feet at least until Ashlan Avenue and possibly beyond, depending on which of two alternatives is chosen for the route in northwest Fresno.
An elevated structure has advantages. It costs about twice as much as a ground-level route but allows local streets to remain open. And it’s about half the cost of putting the line in a below-ground trench. But it is certainly big.
This is roughly the area we’re talking about here:
View Fresno HSR viaduct in a larger map
According to the article, the whole blue section would be a viaduct, at least 12 miles, though not all of it would be 60 feet. It would be quite a sight. Here’s what the CHSRA mockups look like (boards 21 and 22):
Here the viaduct is located next to the UPRR corridor, but encroaches on Roeding Park. CHSRA proposes another option, of essentially going directly over the UPRR tracks, in order to avoid the park:
However, this would place some houses in the path of the viaduct. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.
Clemings reports that this structure, although obviously not cheap, would be only about half the cost of trenching the line.
His article also explained that most Fresno residents were only now becoming aware of the proposal – partly because CHSRA and its consultants have only recently come up with it.
There are certainly operational questions, including how this would interact with Amtrak service (which presumably would remain on the other side of downtown on the BNSF tracks). But it’s an interesting design that would become a major Fresno landmark. It’s obviously much longer than the East Bay Viaduct I showed at the outset of this post. That one has faded into the landscape, whereas it might take just a wee bit longer for the Fresno HSR viaduct to do so. But if it is the design that’s chosen and built, eventually, it too would become part of the landscape.
And it should be noted that, love it or hate it, as far as I’m aware nothing like this is being proposed for the Peninsula.