San Bernardino County road work

Repair costing time, business along freeways
Jesse B. Gill, Staff Writer
Posted: 02/01/2011 07:25:51 PM PST

Debbie Davis used the words “crazy” and “outrageous” when she described traffic on the 215 Freeway and how it has affected her life.

Davis, 53, uses the 215 Freeway every day to travel from her home to work, school and to doctor appointments.

But a San Bernardino Associated Governments project to widen the freeway has caused lanes, on-ramp and off-ramp closures and congested traffic during the day.

Davis, a lifelong San Bernardino resident, will sometimes use her knowledge of side streets to move about the city.

“It gets crazy because all of the freeways are all messed up like that – it’s not just one of them,” she said.

Commuters, like Davis, braving San Bernardino County highways, have spent hours driving on winding detours or sitting stuck in traffic due to maintenance and improvement projects around the region.

The project to widen the 215 Freeway in San Bernardino began in 2006 and is running ahead of schedule, but isn’t due to conclude until late 2013, said Robert Chevez, spokesman for the project.

But Sanbag officials say it will be worth the wait.

The $723 million, five-phase project was launched because of the growth slated to hit the area in the next 20 to 30 years, Chevez said. When finished, the revamped 215 will better serve a larger population, Chevez added.

“This improvement will absolutely address near-term needs and prepare for the future,” he said.

Safety was also a concern, Chevez said.

Before the project began, the 215 Freeway had outdated on-ramps that delivered slow-moving drivers into the far left lane – the fast lane.

“There was a safety issue there, with these old-fashioned on-ramps,” he said.

In the meantime, planning ahead and spending more time braving the congested traffic has become a reality for commuters like Jose Hiriarte.

Hiriarte, 28, said he used the 215 Freeway every day as he commutes to Loma Linda and Riverside for work and school.

“You have to get up earlier to get where you want to go,” he said. “You have to always plan to leave 40 minutes to an hour ahead just to make sure you get there early or on time.”

And come rush hour, when Hiriarte is on his way to his home in San Bernardino, he expects the worst, and most days he gets it.

“I just know that I’m going to be sitting on the 215 for a while,” he said.

Chevez said Sanbag is working to keep motorists as informed as possible about the progress of the project and about what to expect when driving either way on the 215.

Commuters seeking information on the widening project can also call 877-215-6397. Chevez said a Sanbag representative will call back within 24 hours to answer questions about the project.

“We are actually encouraging the community to call us,” he said. “We rely on community input.”

Highway 330 headaches

The 215 isn’t the only San Bernardino County route to give drivers headaches.

Highway 330 is the main artery delivering drivers to Running Springs. Caltrans closed the road on Dec. 23 after an intense winter storm washed a massive chunk of the road 600 feet straight down into a mountain canyon.

Caltrans District 8 Supervisor Ray Wolfe said he hopes Highway 330 can be repaired in about a year. He presented a worst-case scenario – that he later said was unlikely – that put repair and re-opening two years away.

The closing of Highway 330 has left some residents of mountain communities Running Springs, Crestline and Lake Arrowhead looking to relocate.

Joshua Morey, 35, has lived in Running Springs for 23 years. He said his 25-minute commute to his job in Redlands has ballooned to and hour and 10 minutes. He said he’s now contemplating a move off the mountain to be closer to his job.

“It’s a huge effect on us locals, economically, for safety, commuting to our jobs,” Morey said. “There are thousands of us that commute every day down the mountain.”

Terri Schauer owns and runs Bus Stop Coffee Shop and Community Cafe on Highway 18. She said some of her local customers talk about moving to be closer to their jobs. Others have regular doctor appointments down the mountain and they feel they need to be closer to health care.

“Having that road closed is hard and people are hurting, and that’s hard to see,” she said. “They’re thinking if this is going to be a year, I need to be closer to my job.

“It’s going to do a number on the population of this town.”

Morey is also mulling a move because of the danger he feels because of Highway 330’s closing.

“Once fire season starts we are in real trouble,” he said. “We just lost a major exit off the mountain.”

Running Springs Fire Chief Tony Grabow said residents shouldn’t panic because highways 18 and 38 provide viable routes off the mountain in case of emergency.

Mountain residents were forced to use the routes in 2003 when the Old Fire ravaged Running Springs and blocked the use of Highway 330. Highways 18 and 38 were used by thousands of residents, Grabow said.

“It’s not a great thing. We want to have all of our highways open,” he said. “But I don’t see it as gloom and doom.”

Assemblyman Paul Cook, R-Yucaipa, will host a town hall meeting Thursday with mountain residents to discuss the impacts of the collapse and closing of Highway 330.

Traffic spilling out

Work on the county’s major corridors could be affecting traffic on others.

Traffic has clogged the 210 Freeway between Highland and Redlands, which one CHP officer said could be due to the closure of Alabama Street, which connects both cities.

But clearly, it’s freeways and highways that have seen much of the result of road-improvement work and the damage from the recent storms.

Commuters using the 15 Freeway in the Cajon Pass have dealt with a re-paving project that has closed lanes since early January.

Caltrans closed north and southbound lanes of the 15 freeway between Kern Avenue and Oak Hill Road this week to repair pavement damaged in recent winter storms.

Crews are closing lanes in one direction per day in one-mile increments.

Crews will continue work on southbound lanes between 8 a.m. and 3 p.m. today and Thursday.

At least two lanes will be available to both north and southbound traffic during the lane closures, according to a Caltrans news release.

Upcoming work

East Valley commuters have a major project to look forward to on the 10 Freeway.

Sanbag and Caltrans are due to start work in February on a $26.2million project that would add a new lane on the westbound 10 Freeway between Live Oak Canyon Road in Yucaipa and Ford Street in Redlands.

Construction is expected to last until spring 2013, according to a Sanbag.

Both agencies will hold a public meeting today to talk to motorists about what to expect during the project.

Like with the 215, officials say commuters’ patience will pay off.

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