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New Lane Eases Ride on the 91

March 01, 2004|Dan Weikel | Times Staff Writer

Only a week after opening, a new lane on the busy Riverside Freeway has significantly lowered commute times for motorists traveling from the Inland Empire to Orange County during the morning rush hour.

"It's been amazing," said Mary Monise of Corona, who carpools with her husband, Howard, to their jobs in Irvine and Santa Ana. "The improvements have cut 15 to 20 minutes off our drive."

The $6.7-million project is the first in a series of widenings planned for the freeway since the Orange County Transportation Authority bought the privately owned 91 Express Lanes a year ago and eliminated a non-compete agreement between the previous owner and Caltrans that had blocked improvements to the highway.

The new lane runs for half a mile on the westbound side of the freeway between the Riverside-Orange county line and the Foothill-Eastern tollway. Before the improvement, that stretch was one of the worst chokepoints in one of the most congested corridors in Southern California.

Since the lane opened Feb. 22, the Corona Public Works Department estimates that average speeds from 5:30 to 9 a.m. have more than doubled, from 12 mph to 28.5 mph, along an 11.7-mile stretch between McKinley Street in Corona and Gypsum Canyon Road in Anaheim.

Corona officials say the most startling difference is between McKinley Street and Lincoln Avenue in Corona, where average speeds have jumped from lows of 4 mph to more than 60 mph. Before the lane addition, traffic regularly backed up east of Interstate 15. Now it flows smoothly.

Caltrans officials also say they have received steady reports that morning commutes have been reduced by about 20 minutes.

"This is long overdue," said Hilarie Moore, a registered nurse who commutes 27 miles from Norco to UCI Medical Center in Orange. "Residents of the Inland Empire have been exceedingly patient waiting for this. Everyone is so overjoyed."

Moore estimates that her travel times have been cut from 75 minutes to 45 minutes.

In June, Caltrans is scheduled to complete a $340,000 re-striping that will extend the new lane 1 1/2 miles east from the county line to the Corona Expressway.

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