After voters keep gas tax, 15 Freeway toll lanes move ahead
Inland Empire officials are taking a first step toward building more toll lanes along the 15 Freeway, thanks to funds secured through the state’s gas tax.
Construction of Express lanes is already underway on a section of the 15 Freeway between the 60 Freeway and Cajalco Road in Corona, at a cost of $471 million. These lanes are expected to open by mid-2020. Now transportation officials are laying the groundwork for extending those lanes, two in each direction, 14 miles farther south to Highway 74 in Lake Elsinore. The new project will also require widening 14 bridges.
On Wednesday, Nov. 7, the Riverside County Transportation Commission announced that it would move ahead with engineering and environmental studies for the project. The timing was no accident. The notice came one day after California voters defeated Proposition 6, which would have repealed last year’s state gas-tax increase — a new source of transportation funding that invests $54 billion over the next decade.
Councilman Bob Magee said the Commission had originally adopted a long-term goal of adding toll lanes in Lake Elsinore back in 2006, but funding issues have prevented it from becoming a reality. “The bottom line is, after we spent a billion and a half dollars in the 91 corridor, we ran out of money,” Magee said. “There was no more money to build anything else.” Now that Prop. 6 has failed, he said the agency has access to enough money to build the $544 million express lane extension.
A variety of other Inland Empire transportation projects are also benefitting from the recent allocation of SB 1 funds:
- $82 million has been awarded to the $312-million Redlands Rail Passenger Project. “This money will complete the funding package for the project,” said Tim Watkins, spokesman for the San Bernardino County Transportation Authority. The 9-mile rail line between Redlands and San Bernardino is expected to open for service in 2021.
- Caltrans spokeswoman Joy Schneider said her agency received $2.8 million for a $12.9 million project that will boost five bridge spans spread across southern Riverside County.
- The city of Rialto won $2.9 million in state funds for a $4.6-million project that will improve two city streets.
- Moreno Valley received $185,000 to close a gap in the regional Juan Bautista De Anza Trail. Mayor Yxstian Gutierrez said the 2-mile section of trail, designed for cyclists, walkers and joggers, will boost “the livability of Moreno Valley, providing more recreational opportunities and encouraging healthy lifestyles.”