Freeway in Riverside County near Jurupa Valley. Image from Riverside County Transportation Commission video
Freeway in Riverside County near Jurupa Valley. Image from Riverside County Transportation Commission video

The roughly 3-year-long, $1.4 billion Riverside (91) Freeway widening project in Corona will be largely finished in less than two weeks, giving motorists additional lanes to use going both east- and westbound on the busy corridor, the Riverside County Transportation Commission announced Friday.

In the predawn hours of March 20, RCTC crews will open one additional general purpose lane on each side of the 91 between the Corona (71) Expressway and Interstate 15, as well as two additional express toll lanes on both sides of the 91 from I-15 to the Costa Mesa (55) Freeway.

“RCTC made a promise to open the new lanes in spring 2017, and March 20 is the first day of spring,” said RCTC Executive Director Anne Mayer. We are proud to deliver on our promise and equally proud of this major infrastructure investment for Corona and the region.”

RCTC spokesman John Standiford told City News Service that a formal ceremony marking the end of major construction will be held on March 31, but officials wanted to make the new lanes available to commuters as soon as possible.

He said some lingering work on lanes will be done next week, necessitating lane closures between next Thursday and March 19, so motorists may want to consider alternate routes, including the Pomona (60) Freeway going east or west, during that three-day period to avoid delays.

There will be a few final modifications applied later, requiring crews to continue working in several locations until the fall, but major construction will end next week, according to the commission.

In addition to new lanes, the 91 Project involved erecting new connector ramps, refurbishing or replacing overcrossings, enlarging shoulder space and upgrading surface streets along an eight-mile stretch paralleling the freeway.

The project, which got underway in the spring of 2014, was funded through a combination of local Proposition 1A sales taxes, federal and state grants, along with local revenue bonds. The original cost was estimated at $1.3 billion. However, more than a year ago, RCTC changed the figure to $1.4 billion.

“We ran into higher expenses in making changes to right-of-ways,” Standiford told CNS.

He said the October 2015 collapse of a bridge deck at East Grand Avenue did not result in higher costs, nor did it cause a significant delay in construction, as had been feared at the time. Ten workers were injured when the 750-ton span partially gave way, but all have since recovered.

The project necessitated numerous street and ramp closures, as well as periodic freeway shutdowns. The biggest one happened in February 2016, when both sides of the 91 were closed for a full weekend between the 71 and 15 freeways while crews demolished ramps and re-paved portions of the artery, over which more than 200,000 motorists cross daily, most days of the week.

In September 2015, thunderstorms moving through the area caused damage on the westbound 91 at Green River Road, prompting an unanticipated closure that funneled streams of traffic into Corona, clogging surface streets to the point some residents complained that they could not get out of their driveways. The closure was lifted within two days, and soon afterward, RCTC formed a citizens committee to keep the agency informed of community concerns.

The project has employed thousands of construction workers, and according to Standiford, contractors utilized an “innovative design-build method” that accelerated completion by three years.

— City News Service

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