The 91 Freeway is the only major East/West connection between Orange County and Riverside County.
According to the traffic watching firm Inrix, the six-mile stretch through the city of Corona is one of the worst drives in the country. Many in Corona agree, including Briana Nuñez and Dorothy Catanese.
"I would describe it as very hectic, very chaotic, very busy."
"Avoid it at all cost."
Over the years there’s been a lot of efforts to bring the freeway up to modern expectations. The lanes have been restriped to improve traffic flow and toll lanes were added in Orange County, for instance.
But residents like Dorothy Catanese say it’s all done little to improve what’s infamously known as the “Corona Crawl."
"It’s just always a mess whenever I go on it," Catanese said. "I call it the blue collar highway because everyone's just there trying to get to work."
That’s why in July of 2014, Riverside County Transportation Commission began the 91 expansion project. When complete, two toll lanes and one regular lane would be added to the freeway in both directions.
Today, those lanes are finally open. While there’s still some landscaping and shoulder improvements that need to be done, the new lanes represent the bulk of this project.
It’s a day that Vice Mayor Karen Spiegel has looked forward to.
“What's unreal is when you drive on it and you see it and you're like 'Oh My!' when you see the massive work that has been done on our town,” Spiegel said.
Spiegel has an especially big stake in the 91 expansion project. She was the chairperson on it when groundbreaking was done and has been involved in getting funding from nearly the beginning.
“I know there's a lot of inconveniences, and we thank the community for tolerating it, but remember: this is 1.4 billion dollars worth of infrastructure that they can't pick up and take away. It's here. It's permanently in Corona.”
What seemed permanent to many Corona area residents was the on-going construction.
While the project was meant to solve the traffic problems in the Corona, the almost three years of construction made some wonder if it was worth it.
Exits and lanes were closed during rush hour. The accident rate increased. It’s all caused a lot of confusion.
"When we first moved to Corona 27 years ago we could get to our work in Torrence in an hour. Now it takes us an hour to get to the freeway," Corona resident, Ira Yawnick, said.
Vice Mayor Spiegel has heard a lot of those complaints in recent years. But now that these lanes are finally open, she hopes that people will see how beneficial the 91 expansion will be in the long run.
"I’m just hoping that they're going to be happy with it at the end," Spiegel said. "It wasn't to upset people or make their lives miserable; It was to make our lives better. People will now understand that it really wasn't a bad thing, it was a great thing for corona."
There are skeptics. Many traffic engineers point out adding lanes to freeways rarely results in shorter commute times, which Catanese agrees with.
"I’ll believe it when I see it."
But others like June Yawnick are optimistic.
"I think it's great. I know how long it takes to get to the freeway in Corona so I think everyone will be happy."
There will be a special ceremony to mark the opening of the 91 expansion on March 31st.
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