Extension Makes Foothill Freeway an Easier Street
Stock cars, beauty queens and high-ranking state officials were on hand Monday at a spirited ceremony in Rancho Cucamonga to open the first 6-mile segment of what may be the state’s last major freeway extension project.
Traffic-weary neighbors, who have been promised the road project for more than 50 years, applauded as Gov. Gray Davis and other dignitaries dedicated the first stretch of a 28-mile extension of the Foothill Freeway from La Verne to San Bernardino.
Tough new environmental restrictions, urban sprawl and budget constraints mean the $1.1-billion freeway extension is the last major urban freeway project on the drawing board, state transportation officials said. For the most part, the state will now focus on maintaining existing freeways and adding lanes where possible.
A segment from La Verne to Fontana is expected to be completed next fall. A final 6-mile stretch from Fontana east to Interstate 215 in San Bernardino is expected to be completed by 2006.
Several residents who live near the new freeway segment in Rancho Cucamonga were just glad that state officials launched the Foothill Freeway project before putting the brakes on such major freeway work.
“It will be tremendous,” said John H. Peterson, a church volunteer who has lived in the San Bernardino area for 50 years. “It’s going to help ease congestion from Rialto to San Dimas.”
Other neighbors said they never thought they would see the day when the long-promised freeway route would be built.
Michael Silvey, a public works employee from Rancho Cucamonga, said he bought a home only a few yards from the freeway route 10 years ago, promising his wife that the freeway would never cut through the neighborhood.
“We’ve heard about this freeway since we were kids,” Silvey said as he watched the governor cut a red ribbon to open the segment.
Silvey said the freeway construction that began in 1998 was a “minor inconvenience,” but now he expects the freeway to cut his 40-minute commute to Pomona in half.
“I can’t wait until they finish the entire stretch,” he said.
The ribbon-cutting ceremony on the newly laid freeway pavement had all the trappings of a carnival, with teenage beauty queens posing for pictures, military color guards sweating in the blazing midday sun, and children with balloons gawking at shiny stock cars and police helicopters.
“You’ve heard that freeways become parking lots,” said Norman King, executive director of the San Bernardino Associated Governments. “We thought that we would reverse the order and make it a parking lot first.”
The freeway extension is designed to ease the congestion on the San Bernardino (Interstate 10) and Pomona (California 60) freeways, the two other east-west routes connecting Los Angeles County to the burgeoning Inland Empire.
Caltrans engineers give the San Bernardino Freeway an “F-0" rating, meaning motorists face up to one hour of congestion during peak commute times. Traffic is even worse on the Pomona Freeway, which is rated “F-1,” meaning motorists must endure up to two hours of congestion.
“It’s going to make a huge difference because the 10 freeway is always crowded,” said Hugo Talamantes, a Rialto resident who works at a warehouse in Rancho Cucamonga.
Although other proposed freeway projects in Southern California have been abandoned or blocked due to neighborhood opposition and budget restraints, the Foothill Freeway project has moved forward because the route has remained largely undeveloped for more than 50 years.
Voters in San Bernardino County helped keep the project alive by approving a half-cent sales tax increase in 1990 that will generate nearly half of the freeway construction costs.
Davis promised to fund more freeway improvements in the future with the help of a constitutional amendment to permanently earmark gasoline sales tax dollars for transportation projects.
Davis and Assembly Democrats agreed to support the amendment, which had been a major priority for Republicans, in exchange for GOP support for the governor’s proposal to use $1.3 billion in transportation funds to help balance the budget.
“I would like to ask all Californians to seriously consider voting for this measure in March 2002, so that we can have additional dollars to improve freeways up and down the state,” Davis said.
The segment opened Monday, which includes the interchange with the Ontario Freeway, was dedicated to William E. Leonard, a former state transportation commissioner who has lobbied for the project for more than 50 years.
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)
The $1.1-billion Foothill Freeway project will extend the roadway 28 miles to Interstate 215 in San Bernardino. The final segment is scheduled to be completed by 2006.