Nestled in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains, Oakhurst is a picturesque, wooded community just south of Yosemite, in eastern Madera County, with a problem increasingly shared by many rural areas: Creating safe evacuation routes in the event of wildfire.
As climate change makes the weather hotter and drier, wildfires have increased across California and the West, making fast and efficient getaway routes essential. Yet many road systems throughout the state are not designed to handle a sudden evacuation.
Last September, more than 400,000 acres burned in the Creek Fire, the fourth largest fire in the state’s history, dramatically impacting Madera County. The catastrophe served as a reminder that effective evacuation is essential.
Part of the solution in Madera County is a new half-mile road known as the Oakhurst Midtown Connector. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, the Midtown Connector broke ground in October. When complete in 2022, it will help alleviate overloaded traffic near several Oakhurst schools, including Yosemite High, and provide a needed access route in the event of emergencies.
“This connector is essential,” said Matthew Treber, Madera County’s Chief of Development Services, Community and Economic Development “There are schools and businesses along this road and without this road improvement, there is just one way in and one way out. This will make traffic flow so much better on the Highway 41 corridor and also provide access in emergencies.”
Funds from Measure T and SB 1
With a cost of $19 million, the road is funded through Measure T, Madera County’s half-cent sales tax, and through the California Transportation Commission’s competitive Local Partnership Program, which awarded the project $5 million in SB 1 gas tax proceeds.
The Midtown Connector will create a new, local road as a second access route to the Indian Springs and School Road (Road 427) corridor, improving traffic circulation – and allowing for better emergency access. The new, two-lane roadway will include bike lanes and sidewalks, along with a bridge across Nelder Creek/Fresno River. Traffic signals will be added both on Highway 41, at the new intersection of the Midtown Connector, and to the existing T-intersection at Indian Springs Road, next to Fresno Flats.
Tom Wheeler, Madera County Supervisor for District 5, said the groundbreaking ceremony for the connector was the culmination of years of collaboration and hard work for Madera County, Madera County Transportation Commission and Caltrans.
“This road will drastically improve public safety and traffic flow in our Oakhurst community, and I look forward to the completion of the project,” Wheeler said
Patricia Taylor, Executive Director of the Madera County Transportation Commission, noted the important role played by Madera’s local sales tax measure, which provided most ($15 million) of the project’s funding.
“The beauty of having a local transportation sales tax measure is that it has allowed Madera County to leverage other funding sources,” Taylor said. “Without Measure T, this project could not have been built.”