U.S. Department of Transportation officials today announced a $20 million grant to help fund construction of express lanes and connector ramps that will ease congestion along Riverside County's busiest travel artery.
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said funding for the state Route 91 Corridor Improvement Project was included in a passel of grants totaling $511 million, awarded for 46 projects in 33 states and Puerto Rico.
The federal tax dollars underwriting the grants will come from the Obama administration's "We Can't Wait" initiative, a component of the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) program, which began with the $787 billion American Recovery & Reinvestment Act signed into law by the president in February 2009.
The Congressional Budget Office has since estimated the cost of ARRA will exceed $850 billion due to higher unemployment claims and inflation.
LaHood said the TIGER grants will contribute to lower unemployment as laborers are hired to work on the federally subsidized infrastructure projects.
The cost of the 91 freeway project is estimated at $1.34 billion. According to federal officials, the $20 million payment is in addition to a Transportation Infrastructure Finance & Innovation Act loan that will cover one-third of the project's costs.
The Riverside County Transportation Commission, which applied for the grant, is relying on Measure A transportation funds -- generated from a half-cent sales tax -- to pay for the majority of the project.
Construction is slated to begin in 2013. A final environmental impact report will be released next summer.
State Route 91, which spans Riverside and Orange counties, is notorious for bottlenecks, particularly at peak travel periods. More than 270,000 vehicles traverse the freeway daily.
Congestion on the 91 often leads to spillover traffic on Interstates 10, 15 and the 215, as well as the Pomona (60) Freeway and the Corona (71) Expressway, according to the RCTC.
The improvement project would add toll lanes to the 91, from I-15 to the Orange County line, as well as new general purpose lanes from Pierce Street in Riverside to the Orange County line.
New connector ramps would also be added to I-15/91 freeway interchange.
The changes would cut an estimated average of 23 minutes off commute times and relieve congestion on surrounding streets in Corona and Riverside, where motorists veer off the freeway to get around snarls, according to the RCTC.