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New westbound 91 Freeway lane opens this weekend between Corona, Anaheim

By  | | The Press-Enterprise

Corona Mayor Wes Speake is seen Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2022, near the new 2-mile-long lane on the westbound 91 Freeway in Corona. The lane will permanently open Saturday, Jan. 8, 2022. (Photo by Terry Pierson, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

Corona Mayor Wes Speake is seen Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2022, near the new 2-mile-long lane on the westbound 91 Freeway in Corona. The lane will permanently open Saturday, Jan. 8, 2022. (Photo by Terry Pierson, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

Southern California drivers who wrestle with the chronic congestion of the 91 Freeway are getting a new westbound lane at a notorious choke point in the morning commute — the Riverside-Orange county line.

Regional transportation officials are preparing to open, temporarily, a 2-mile-long, all-purpose lane that will extend from Green River Road in Corona west to the 241 Toll Road in Anaheim Hills on Friday morning, Jan. 7.

Then, after a full overnight closure on the westbound side, the new lane will permanently open Saturday morning, Jan. 8, said John Standiford, deputy executive director for the Riverside County Transportation Commission.

The commission is urging motorists to plan ahead for the closure, which involves shutting all westbound 91 lanes between the 71 Freeway in Corona and the 241 from 11 p.m. Friday to 5 a.m. Saturday.

Also set to close are the westbound 91 Express Lanes in Riverside and Orange counties, the westbound Green River Road on- and off-ramps, the ramp connecting the southbound 71 to westbound 91, and the ramp connecting the northbound 15 Freeway with the westbound 91 Express Lanes — starting as early as 8 p.m. Friday.

The closure is intended to provide room for construction workers to safely install an overhead sign across the highway – one of the last pieces of work on the $29 million project, Standiford said.

“The freeway is going to be wider so the span of the sign has to be wider,” he said.

Corona Mayor Wes Speake, who serves on the transportation commission, cheered the approaching completion of the project, which began construction in November 2020.

Speake was one of many Corona residents who lobbied for the project after the commission’s $1.4 billion makeover of the 91 Freeway, completed in March 2017, didn’t solve traffic congestion. In fact, he said, things seemed to get worse after that massive earlier project was finished as commuters snaked their way through city neighborhoods on quests to avoid the paralysis of the highway.

Speake, elected in 2018 to the Corona City Council on a platform of confronting traffic, said he sat down with Ned Ibrahim, a civil engineer and former Corona assistant public works director, to talk about a potential solution over lunch in fall 2017.

On a napkin, Ibrahim drew a rough picture of the westbound lane now under construction, noting it was originally to be part of the 91 makeover but was eliminated — along with other features — because of cost concerns.

“I’m really glad that it’s getting done finally,” Ibrahim said. “It’s really actually a small piece of a bigger puzzle. But, as I have always said, it is a critical piece.”

Corona activists lobbied forcefully — and continuously — for going back out and adding that westbound lane at Green River.

“And RCTC picked it up and ran with it,” said Speake, who voted along with colleagues at his first commission meeting — following his election to the city council — to authorize the project in December 2018.

Looking back, Speake said it is amazing to think that, in a little over four years, the idea has gone “from a sketch on a napkin” to a completed project.

Speake said he is confident the lane addition will make traffic flow a little better on the 91.

“The better the freeway functions, the more people are going to stay off city streets,” he added.

Ibrahim said the addition, called an auxiliary lane, will help by minimizing conflict between general freeway traffic bound for the 241 and drivers entering at Green River with the goal of keeping to the right and hopping on the toll road.

Not everyone believes the improvement will improve traffic flow.

George Hague, conservation chair for the Moreno Valley Group of the Sierra Club, said that in a widely documented pattern called “induced demand,” motorists in large metropolitan areas tend to bounce from other freeways to those that have just been widened.

“And you’re back to where you started from,” he said.

Perhaps there will be some relief early on, Hague said, but not in the long term.

“You cannot build yourself out of congestion,” he said.

The Riverside County agency teamed up with the Orange County Transportation Authority, Caltrans, the Transportation Corridor Agencies and the city of Corona to build the new lane.

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