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Funds for Riverside Interchange Upgrade OKd

August 15, 2003|Kurt Streeter | Times Staff Writer

Cash-strapped state transportation officials agreed Thursday to a $31-million deal, clearing the way for a long-sought upgrade of the Pomona and Riverside freeway interchange.

Approved unanimously by the California Transportation Commission, the deal allows the freeways to be upgraded by permitting Riverside County officials to provide $31 million for construction costs upfront. The commission, struggling so badly with Sacramento's budget crunch that it has had to shelve more than 200 construction projects since December, agreed to reimburse the Riverside County Transportation Commission in three years.

The $31 million was needed to fill out the budget for the project, which will cost taxpayers a total of $312 million.

Meant to relieve congestion at one of the region's busiest interchanges, the plan is a top priority for California Department of Transportation and Riverside officials. It will widen the 60, 91 and 215 freeways to five lanes in both directions, adding a truck-only and a carpool lane. The interchange will be remodeled to ease traffic flow and create room each day for 250,000 cars by 2020. It currently handles about 100,000 vehicles daily.

"We're very excited," said Cathy Bechtel, the Riverside County Transportation Commission planning director, after the vote. "This is the biggest project we have for Riverside County. It has been touch and go ... whether we could pull this off. Needless to say, this is a huge day for us."

If the funding had not been approved, local transportation officials said, the improvements to the interchange would have been delayed several years.

Construction is now expected to begin around 2004 and end about 2007, a spokesman said.

The Riverside deal is similar to one approved by the commission earlier in the year allowing the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority to spend more than $300 million on its priority projects. The MTA will also be paid back by the state.

In a move that once again highlighted the fallout from the state budget crisis, the California Transportation Commission also voted Thursday to shelve 17 additional construction projects statewide. The commission says it will try to kick-start the projects it has suspended this year, when the state budget is healthier.

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