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$35 Million Is Sought for Freeway Work

Riverside County needs it to improve two routes and redesign an interchange. But a state transit panel has only $70 million to fund all California projects.

May 15, 2003|Seema Mehta | Times Staff Writer

Riverside County leaders are seeking $35 million from the state to begin a massive cloverleaf-like interchange and other improvements where the Riverside and Pomona freeways meet.

But the funding is by no means guaranteed. Riverside County must compete against hundreds of proposals throughout the state for roughly $70 million available from the California Transportation Commission.

If the county doesn't receive the funding, the $295-million interchange project that has been in the works for well over a decade may have to be shelved for two or three more years.

"There is a distinct possibility of a delay, which would force mothballing," said Eric Haley, executive director of the Riverside County Transportation Commission. "Not a permanent cessation, but a significant, disruptive delay that would cost the area a lot in economic resources and foregone job development opportunities."

The project, funded through federal, state and local dollars, is intended to reduce congestion where the freeways meet in Riverside. Work will also occur on freeways in adjacent Moreno Valley.

The number of lanes on the freeways would be increased, carpool lanes on Riverside Freeway would be extended, new auxiliary lanes would be added, and a truck bypass would be constructed on the southbound Riverside Freeway north of the interchange. According to Caltrans, this will allow the freeways to accommodate 250,000 vehicles a day by 2020. Right now, the interchange handles about 100,000 vehicles daily.

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

County transportation officials say they need the $35 million to begin construction by January to keep on a complex schedule.

The interchange project is one of 12 in California that uses "design sequencing," which allows Caltrans to put a contract out to bid and begin preliminary work before the project is fully planned. If all goes according to plan, this reduces the amount of construction time and money spent because more work can be done simultaneously.

But "you have very little room for error," Haley said.

This method of planning creates a tight timeline. For example, the primary entrance of UC Riverside will be closed from June 18 to Sept. 1, 2004, to allow construction of an interchange. That time span was chosen to avoid inconveniencing students. If the project is delayed and cannot be completed during that time, that phase could be set back a year or more.

Haley said the county commission may be able to scrape together up to $5 million from its other programs, but it would need the remainder from the state commission.

Haley has spent recent days traveling the state to visit members of the California Transportation Commission. On Wednesday, Haley, two county supervisors, some mayors and a UC Riverside vice chancellor will head to Sacramento to make a 10-minute pitch to the commission. Representatives from projects across the state will also argue that their own projects deserve the funding. The commission will allocate the funds at its June 25 to 26 meeting in Orange County.

Board of Supervisors Chairman John Tavaglione, who is also a county transportation commissioner, is among those making the trip. He said he is concerned about having to persuade the commission to give the one project half of the $70 million it has available. But he said he's encouraged because this project is ready to go, unlike others it is competing against.

Tavaglione said the project is crucial to the region's future, because of the role the freeways play in moving commuters, goods and tourists across the region.

"It's a critical link to everything within Southern California," he said. "The sooner we can get this project going and complete, the more assurance and comfort we have that this economy will continue to be vital."

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