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Reserve Funds Offered for Freeway Project

Riverside County transit panel votes to lend $7.5 million to the state for an interchange between the Riverside and Pomona freeways.

June 19, 2003|Seema Mehta | Times Staff Writer

Hoping to avoid mothballing a $295-million interchange project in the works for more than a decade, the Riverside County Transportation Commission on Wednesday voted without opposition to lend the state project $7.5 million in reserve funds set aside for programs such as reduced bus fares for the elderly and carpooling incentives.

"This is an extraordinary action," said Eric Haley, the commission's executive director. "It would not be something we would even consider in normal times, but unfortunately, these are not normal times."

Most of the project, a massive cloverleaf-like interchange and other improvements where the Riverside and Pomona freeways meet, will be funded by state bonds issued next year.

But there's a $35-million shortfall, and the county commission was relying on state transportation officials to make up the difference.

Previously, to induce the state to make up the shortfall, county transportation officials offered to chip in $5 million. On Wednesday, they voted 22 to 0 to increase that figure to $7.5 million -- which means they need $27.5 million from the state to make the project happen. Eight commission members were not present.

If the county doesn't receive the funding, the interchange may have to be shelved for two or three years, officials have said.

The California Transportation Commission currently has roughly $70 million for highway projects -- and there are hundreds of proposals across the state competing for the funds. The state commission will not decide how to distribute the money until it meets Aug. 13 and 14, because the state's budget crisis and uncertain revenue projections threaten to reduce the amount of available money.

The $7.5 million from the county transportation commission is being lent to the project, rather than given outright, because it comes from funds that can be spent only on specific programs to increase the mobility of senior citizens and the disabled, as well as incentives for carpooling and other efforts to reduce freeway congestion.

The money will be paid back over 64 months from the commission's future state funding.

In the end, programs for the elderly, the disabled and commuters will be unaffected, but the diverted state funding could mean delays for roadway improvements, said John Standiford, spokesman for the county commission.

In addition to building a cloverleaf-like interchange, the number of lanes on the freeways would be increased, carpool lanes would be extended, and a truck bypass would be constructed on the southbound Riverside Freeway.

According to Caltrans, this will allow the freeways to accommodate 250,000 vehicles a day by 2020. The interchange handles about 100,000 vehicles daily.

Preliminary work has begun, and construction is scheduled to be completed by early 2008.

In other news, the commission awarded $26.3-million to SEMA Construction Inc. to widen Route 60 from Fredrick Street to Redland Boulevard in Moreno Valley. The project is federally funded and unrelated to the interchange project.

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