The Riverside County Transportation Commission (RCTC) is planning a December 11 groundbreaking ceremony for the $1.3 billion, SR 91 Corridor Improvement Project through Corona and Riverside in Southern California.

The long-awaited project will  build  a  new  toll lane  in  each  direction  of  the  91 for eight miles between the Orange County/ Riverside County line and Interstate 15,  rebuild  seven interchanges, make local street improvements in the city of Corona, and construct a number of auxiliary lanes at key locations on and off the freeway. 

This corridor is considered one of the worst commutes in the nation, with an estimated eight hours of gridlock traffic per day, says the RCTC. Built in the early 1960s, the freeway section sees roughly 280,000 vehicles each day, with another 140,000 per day estimated by 2035, the agency says.

In May, the RCTC awarded a joint venture team headed by Atkinson Contractors and Walsh Construction Company with a $664.2 million design build contract. The team, which includes URS as lead designer, was selected from a field of four design-builders. RCTC says the design-build method should shave between three and four years off the project compared to a traditional design-bid-build approach.

In July the RCTC was awarded a $421 million federal Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) loan to help fund the project. This was in addition to more than $638 million of toll revenue and sales tax revenue bonds from voter‐approved Measure A.

Besides actual construction, the project's biggest construction challenge will be acquiring land as it moves through fully developed sections of the various affected cities. RCTC says current preliminary designs for the project may require the full purchase of about 75 parcels, the partial purchase of close to 125 parcels, and establishment of temporary construction easements or utility easements for about 70 parcels. Roughly half of the affected parcels are residential; others are commercial, industrial and retail businesses.

When complete in 2017, the project's toll lane system will be run by Irvine, CA-based Cofiroute USA, which signed a $60 million, five-year contract with the Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA) and RCTC in May. The contract covers lane monitoring, maintenance of highway equipment, supervision of the toll system, back-office and customer service management. Cofiroute USA has been participating in the lane's and its free flow toll system since the project started in 1995, operating the existing 10 miles for the OCTA since 2002.

The project, RCTC's largest to date, is scheduled for completion in fall 2017 is expected to create around 16,000 jobs, says RCTC