The headache is not over for commuters between Riverside and Orange counties, but it’s getting better. County, state and federal officials today opened a new eastbound lane on the 91 Freeway.
The new lane runs about six miles between the 241 Toll Road in eastern Orange County and the 71 Freeway in Riverside County.
The $65 million price tag is paid for mostly by federal stimulus money. This is the first stimulus-funded transportation project to be completed in Orange County.
"We’re estimating that you’re going to be saving about 15 minutes each day as you travel eastbound on this highway," said Victor Mendez of the U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration.
Some people said one new eastbound lane won’t make much of a dent in the bottleneck and that a new lane will only attract new traffic. But the Orange County Transportation Authority’s Will Kempton sees it the other way around.
"This is a growth state. This is a growth region," he said. "It’s not a matter of, 'If you build it, they will come.' They are here and they will keep coming. So we’ve got to make sure we have alternative forms of transportation available. We’ve got to make sure that we can provide whatever capacity that we can."
More capacity is on the way. The Orange County Transportation Authority plans to add one additional lane in each direction on the 91 Freeway between the 55 and the 241. That project is due to begin next year.
And crews plan to break ground on more improvements to the 91 Freeway in Riverside County in 2012.
"We will have a mirror image of what’s in Orange County in Riverside," said Anne Mayer of the Riverside County Transportation Commission. "We’ll have two express lanes in each direction. We’re also going to be adding another lane of general purpose capacity on the outside. We’ll be rebuilding all of the interchanges."
Those new lanes will stretch all the way from the Orange-Riverside county line to Interstate 15. They're expected to be completed by 2016.