YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Freeway link a door for some, a jam for others

Closing the gap on the 210 will help Inland Empire commuters but may further congest streets in foothill cities.

July 23, 2007|Rong-Gong Lin II and David Pierson | Times Staff Writers

When Southern California's newest freeway link opens Tuesday, it will provide traffic relief for the fast-growing Inland Empire but bring more traffic pain to the San Gabriel Valley.

Drivers will be able to merge onto the final 7.25-mile stretch of the 210 Freeway between Rialto and San Bernardino, completing a 59-year-old campaign by transportation officials to create a continuous thoroughfare along the region's northern foothills.

But as the 210 has pushed east toward fast-growing suburbs in San Bernardino County, traffic on the freeway's Los Angeles County section has significantly worsened. In 2001, the average daily traffic in both directions on the 210 at San Dimas Avenue was 67,000 vehicles. That number jumped to 177,000, with Caltrans expecting it to rise further when the final leg opens. The 210 is now among the Southland's busiest freeways.

Officials in some San Gabriel Valley communities have complained about spillover traffic on surface streets. San Marino officials said traffic on Huntington Drive jumped 20% after the last section of the 210 opened in 2002.

"They get frustrated with congestion and decide to take surface streets," said Ben Salvaty, chairman of San Marino's traffic commission. "In some places, it's been near gridlock [on Huntington Drive]."

Part of the problem is commuters driving west from the new suburbs of western San Bernardino County to jobs in the San Gabriel Valley and the L.A. area.

Another major factor is truck traffic, said Doug Failing, director of the California Department of Transportation in Los Angeles and Ventura counties.

The last 210 extension connected the route to the 15 Freeway, instantly making the 210 a popular bypass for truckers trying to get from the port complexes to Las Vegas or from Las Vegas to the San Fernando Valley and points north.

Russell Moon lives with the extra traffic each day.

"The problem is the trucks. As soon as they started using the 210, it's been start and stop," said Moon, 49, a Disney computer programmer who commutes daily from Arcadia to Burbank.

Moon now often exits the 210 and detours on surface streets. "I just crank up the radio for the drive," Moon said, explaining how he endures the traffic. "You get old, complacent and just accept it."

In Arcadia, officials have been bracing for more traffic. After the 210 was extended 20 miles east to Fontana in 2002, the city soon noticed an increase not just in freeway traffic but surface street congestion, said City Manager Bill Kelly. The city responded by synchronizing traffic signals. It has helped, Kelly said, but traffic continues to slow.

Some of the traffic is caused by the city's own workers, who cannot afford to live in upscale Arcadia and have put down roots in Fontana, Rancho Cucamonga and other San Bernardino County suburbs. Kelly estimates that two-thirds of the city's workers live in the Inland Empire.

"They know their commute.... And they've seen a worsening in traffic," he said.

Though San Gabriel Valley communities are expecting the worst, officials in Rialto and San Bernardino are excited about the extension. The 210 completion is expected to make life significantly easier for commuters in those cities, who now must either take surface streets or drive to the congested 10 Freeway.

The 210 has also become a magnet for commercial and housing development. Fontana, for instance, has created what it calls the "Miracle Mile" along the new stretch of freeway, consisting of car dealerships, big-box centers and other retail businesses.

When the last 210 extension reached Fontana in 2002, it brought with it a development boom. The freeway suddenly made the city more attractive to developers because it made the commute into L.A. County much faster. In June, the U.S. Census Bureau ranked Fontana as the nation's 21st-fastest-growing city, with its population rising to 170,099 in July 2006, a 3.4% jump from the previous year.

Fontana Mayor Mark Nuaimi makes no apologies if his city's rise makes traffic worse for his neighbors farther west.

"I don't feel bad. It's traffic from the region. The region is growing," Nuaimi said. "With the 210 being completed into our community, it has made Fontana a viable community for people who work in Pasadena, who work in Glendora. They can now live in Fontana and readily commute."

Building the 210 has been a goal of transportation officials since 1948, as they planned a network of freeways crisscrossing the entire region.

Much of the L.A. County stretch was built in the 1960s and '70s, though there were some holdouts. Residents of La Canada Flintridge, Montrose and La Crescenta vociferously opposed it, with a county supervisor calling the route "the best example I know of raping a magnificent community unnecessarily."

Only in 2002 would the 210 reach all the way from the San Fernando Valley to the 15 Freeway and Fontana. Starting Tuesday, it goes to San Bernardino and Highway 30.

Los Angeles Times Articles