A plan to expand and upgrade Southern California's congested state Route 91 has received a $421-million federal Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) loan. The U.S. Dept. of Transportation's July 3 loan announcement means construction on the $1.3-billion design-build project in Riverside County can begin by the end of 2013.

"This project is going to make Riverside County more accessible and more attractive to potential employers and businesses once it's completed," says John Standiford, deputy executive director of the Riverside County Transportation Commission (RCTC), which applied for the loan."This funding allows us to do something major to this corridor, rather than just trying to build a lane at a time here and there."

The project includes extending two existing express lanes and adding a new non-express lane in each direction from the Orange County line to Interstate 15 in Riverside County—a distance of about eight miles. Other project elements include rebuilding seven interchanges as well as street improvements in the city of Corona.

A joint venture of Atkinson Contractors and Walsh Construction Co. is leading the project's construction under a $664.2-million contract. URS is the lead designer.

The Route 91 project, slated to be completed in 2017, is RCTC's first use of design-build. "The main reason we went with design-build was schedule savings," says Michael Blomquist, RCTC toll program director. "We estimated it would save a minimum of three years of project-development time."

The TIFIA loan will be repaid through future toll revenue, Standiford says. He says the rest of the funding will come from toll-road bonds and non-toll improvements financed through a half-cent sales tax.

The 15-year-old TIFIA program was significantly expanded in 2012's Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act.