SR-71 Corona toll road?
By Peter Samuel
Riverside County California is looking at the feasibility of an approx. 21km (13ml) toll road to improve accessibility along its far western fringe in the vicinity of Corona. Jack Reagan, executive director of the Riverside County Transportation Commission told TR in an interview that his board recently authorized him to look for consultants to do a feasibility study of about 16km of toll road to extend SR-71 south of SR-91 in a southeasterly direction along the foothills of the Santa Ana mountains to provide a direct connection to I-15 in the vicinity of Cajalco Road about 15km south of the SR-91/I-15 interchange.
HDR the nationwide engineering firm is already doing a feasibility study of a toll road upgrade of SR-71 from SR-91 about 5km (3ml) north to the San Bernardino county line, presently just a 2-lane surface arterial. That work is being financed jointly by San Bernardino and Riverside counties. Caltrans is currently building 14km of SR-71 through San Bernardino county to full 8-lane (6 mixed use, 2HOV) expressway standard (California calls it a freeway), a $140m job due for completion in 1998. The work was financed by a local tax increase following a county referendum called Measure I. At the northern end of this freeway in far eastern Los Angeles county Caltrans has a large new interchange being built between SR-71 and SR-60, the Pomona Freeway, a major east-west route.
Riverside Countys transport chief Reagan told us he is also talking to California Private Transportation Company (CPTC) about the possibility of their being involved in the toll road project in Riverside County. CPTCs SR-91 Express Lanes have their easterly end just near the Orange Co/Riverside Co line just 2.5km from the SR-71 interchange and it might be possible to extend their toll lanes with connections to SR-71.
The potential for an SR-71 toll road is indicated by the daily traffic volumes on the expressways on four sides of the I-15/SR-91 interchange. I-15 is about 90,000 north and south of the interchange. SR-91 runs 215,000 west of the interchange and 175,000 east of it. Large volumes of SR-91 traffic west of I-15 are peeling off north and south or originating in I-15. Corona has a number of large new developments and the envisaged toll road SR-71 would pick up local traffic at interchanges along the way as well as providing a more direct route to central Los Angeles than the crowded SR-91 or I-15.
The proposed new toll road south of SR-91 is not currently on a highway reservation but Reagan says he is hopeful than an alignment can be found that does not upset property owners along the way. Not far west of the likely alignment is the Cleveland National Forest and the Santa Ana mountain range, off bounds to development.
Reagan told us he expects to authorize feasibility study work on the new project shortly. Caltrans granted CPTC the option to extend their toll lanes easterly into Riverside county but it seems doubtful that they can do this against opposition from Riverside county authorities.
Riverside county was in conflict with Caltrans over the SR-91 project just across the Orange County line. Reagan says at the time his agency was against all toll roads but they have changed their mind. He now sees that a toll road can be beneficial but thinks he can structure a better deal for his county residents than Caltrans did in Orange Co.
Reagan does not favor an unlimited profit investor-built toll road like SR-91 Express Lanes but is more interested in a mixed public-private partnership, involving either a non-profit company or an arrangement that limits profits. HDR is bidding a non-profit arrangement in the East valley of Phoenix Arizona and Interwest has similar schemes on the go in Minneapolis MN, Greenville SC and South Mountain Phoenix AZ. (Contact Jack Reagan, Riverside Co: 909 787 7141)