Completed Sheperd Avenue project to improve traffic as kids go back to school

August 16, 2013 2:57:59 PM PDT
Shepherd Avenue in Northeast Fresno is back open after being closed for more than three months. Drivers have been rerouted at Shepherd between Millbrook and Perrin while city crews built a tunnel underneath Shepherd Avenue.

City leaders timed the construction around the school schedule. They started it when classes got out for the summer and worked through the past few months to make sure the roads were back open for the first day of school.

Fresno area cyclist Susan Barnett says its "wonderful" that the area is back open. She and many others have had to spend the past few months finding alternate driving, running and cycling routes.

"I had to really get lost a few times to find my way out to the park, with this detour," Barnett said.

The avid cyclist did not like the fact that she couldn't depend on her usual route, but she also says the intersection was dangerous. "I've noticed more as a driver than a cyclist I have almost not seen people who are about to cross, they're not highly visible at certain times of day--it's just been a tragedy".

She and many others in Northeast Fresno will never forget what happened on July 26th of 2012, when 7-year-old Donovan Maldonado was hit by a drunk driver while crossing Shepherd Avenue near Millbrook. Former basketball coach Loren Lebeau agreed to a 12 year prison sentence after taking a plea deal in court in June of this year.

Barnett says the accident could have happened to anybody. City leaders say the intersection was supposed to have a tunnel from its inception, but money has always been the problem. A grant to pay for the project came through a few years ago. Fresno's Public Works Director Patrick Wiemiller says, "We got authorized for funding four years ago with air quality grants because this helps reduce idling cars, which helps our air the best so finally our turn for the money came up."

Wiemiller says it is a vision that has 13 years in the making this portion of the trail is the 9th underpass they have created, and is the 5th in Fresno. When it's complete it will look like the others that cyclists, runners and walkers have come to depend on.

The tunnel itself still needs to be finished and city leaders say it will officially open to everyone by December.

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