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Now it's a road to somewhere

The final section of the 210 Freeway is now open, easing travel from the Inland Empire to the Los Angeles area.

July 25, 2007|Tiffany Hsu | Times Staff Writer

The long-awaited final stretch of the 210 Freeway opened Tuesday morning with a traditional Southern California formula: a glut of government officials, impatient drivers and a standstill traffic jam.

After decades of lobbying, four years of construction and a delayed schedule, the last 7 1/4 miles of the Foothill Freeway drew packs of spectators to overpasses and lines of waiting drivers to onramps in San Bernardino and Rialto.

For several hours afterward, the only visible traffic came from the eastbound lanes -- the entrances to the westbound lanes were blocked until noon by California Department of Transportation inspectors, leaving vehicles backed up for nearly a mile.

But drivers, even those caught in the traffic jam, were pleased by the freeway's completion, saying they expected the new route -- from San Bernardino through the San Gabriel Valley into Los Angeles County -- to clear congestion on residential streets and ease traffic on the nearby Interstates 10 and 215. Officials from San Bernardino County, San Bernardino Associated Governments and Caltrans also touted the 210 as an example of inter-government cooperation and a boon for San Bernardino County's economic health.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday July 27, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 47 words Type of Material: Correction
210 Freeway: An article in Wednesday's California section about the opening of the last link in the 210 Freeway incorrectly stated the entire freeway was 28 miles long. The 210 extension in San Bernardino County covers 28 miles. The entire freeway is more than 70 miles long.

With the opening of the freeway extension, the 210 is expected to be used by 163,000 drivers daily.

Several hours before the last link of the freeway was set to open at 10 a.m., Caltrans inspectors said there was some "very hectic" last-minute work being done, including safety checks, fencing adjustments and cleanup. They noted, however, that the main line was complete.

The new extension has four lanes, including one designated for carpools, in each direction. It is made with special, thicker pavement designed to last 40 years rather than the average 15 years, said Basem Muallem, deputy director of maintenance for Caltrans.

After a controversy during the planning process, most of the freeway is below ground level.

The entire 210 freeway is 28 miles long. The extension, which cost $233 million, continues the 210 at Alder Avenue in Rialto and merges into California Highway 30 in San Bernardino.

New on- and offramps are at Alder Avenue, Ayala Drive and Riverside Avenue in Rialto and at State Street in San Bernardino. Ramps connecting the 210 to the 215 have yet to be built, officials said.

By 9:45 a.m., officials said lines of drivers had formed at some onramps, eager to be among the first to experience the final stretch of the 210, which San Bernardino Mayor Pat Morris said may be the last major east-west freeway built in Southern California.

But cleanup crews ran late, delaying the opening for 15 minutes. And when the first eastbound cars from Ayala Avenue appeared, the opposite westbound lanes remained empty as inspectors worked to clear nearly 4,000 feet of cones, said Annette Franco, a San Bernardino Associated Governments spokeswoman.

Cars waiting to head west didn't budge till noon. Many stuck in the jam drove over gravel separating the 210 from the 215 to escape the congestion.

The new section is dedicated to the late U.S. Rep. George E. Brown Jr. (D-California). Brown's widow, Marta Marcias Brown of San Bernardino, was the first driver on the new section of the freeway Tuesday.

Rialto resident Sharon Briscoe, 61, watched the opening from the Highland Avenue bridge overpass in Rialto, cheering as the first drivers onto the freeway waved and honked from the Riverside Avenue onramp.

Around her, nearly 40 people tried to edge their way through a mass of cameras for a glimpse of the Caltrans trucks still driving east in the westbound lanes to clean traces of construction from pristine freeway pavement. Drivers later kicked up clouds of dust left over from the construction.

"It's wonderful that we can connect with faraway places," said Briscoe, who added that Los Angeles now feels like it's in her backyard. "People were talking about this for so long, and finally, it's a reality. I can just go behind my house and get on the freeway."

Morris said he hoped the freeway extension would boost Rialto and San Bernardino's economies the same way earlier stretches of the 210 revitalized cities such as Rancho Cucamonga and Fontana.

Until the 210's University Park exit opened Tuesday, San Bernardino's west side had no freeway onramp and offramp, leaving it "economically comatose for 30 years," Morris said.

But with the 210's extension, the area is attracting retail proposals.

"It's all very exciting. It'll help the economy around here and get businesses, especially small ones, up and running," said Rialto resident and real estate agent Vernard Williams, 58.

"No one will have to make all those detours -- they can get straight to wherever they want."

tiffany.hsu@latimes.com

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