Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Will Corona surface streets continue to serve as shortcuts for 91 Freeway commuters?

Carpools only when HOT lanes get congested
Conceptual entry sign for the planned 91 Express Lanes extension: Concept advocates for free non-transponder 3+ carpooling and HOV-only usage should the lanes become congested.

Since the early 1990's, 91 Freeway commuters headed to jobs in Orange County have been looking for ways to get around the infamous Corona Crawl. For the past few decades, several peak hour commuters use surface streets in the City of Corona to get around the chronic stop-and-go 91 Freeway traffic between the Inland Empire and Orange County.

The Green River Road interchange in the early 90's

At one point more than twenty years ago, residents in western Corona became so fed up with stopped commuter traffic spilling over into their local streets that such issues made living in this part of Corona undesirable. This was caused by a bottleneck along the westbound 91 Freeway at Green River Road.

At that time, the 91 Freeway between Corona and Orange County was four lanes wide with no high occupancy lanes. When the 91 Express Lanes was built a few years later, the bottleneck was still present due to a westbound lane drop just west of Green River Road. Each morning, commuters dealt with bumper-to-bumper traffic between the I-15 Freeway and the Orange County line. Due to a non-compete clause with the toll lane operator, public officials could not restripe the roadway in order to get rid of the lane drop. The issues lasted for more than a decade until the early 2000's when OCTA took public ownership of the 91 Express Lanes.

The Green River Road interchange today

Thanks to ongoing local improvements, the establishment of Metrolink service, the development of the 91 Express Lanes and additional general purpose lanes, the Green River Road bottleneck is now generally confined within the interchange area during the early morning peak hour.

Is the El Cerrito Road interchange next?

The I-15 southbound from Corona into Lake Elsinore may experience a similar problem. At the I-15 southbound at El Cerrito Road, there is a lane drop where the highway goes from four lanes to three. During the afternoon peak hour and weekends, this bottleneck often creates a 3-5 mile traffic backup. Public officals will be breaking ground next year to upgrade the 91 Freeway through Corona by adding a general purpose lane and extending the 91 Express Lanes to the I-15 with a short extension along the I-15 to the south. With these lane additions, the I-15 is expected to carry more vehicles, yet upgrades to fix the actual bottleneck are still in the planning stages. This means the traffic chokepoint along southbound I-15 at El Cerrito Road is expected to be exacerbated. Public officials must therefore prepare for the coming of even more afternoon commuters and weekend travelers of whom may end up using the local surface streets as a means to get around the Corona Crawl.

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