91 Freeway commutes could be eased this week with the opening of a new lane
Motorists braving the heavily traveled 91 corridor between the Inland Empire and Orange County could see their commute ease starting Thursday.
Orange County officials Thursday will inaugurate a new eastbound lane on a six-mile section of the Riverside Freeway. Commuters will be able to use it starting Thursday morning, officials said.
The yearlong, $65-million widening project was the first in Orange County funded largely by the massive federal stimulus package enacted in 2009.
“Any relief we can provide for those commuters is going to be very welcome,” said Joel Zlotnik, spokesman for the Orange County Transportation Authority.
The added lane will run from the 241 toll road to the 71 Corona Expressway and will increase the eastbound lanes from four to five. There are also two toll lanes down the center of the freeway in both directions.
Transportation officials say the extra lane should make it easier for the estimated 300,000 commuters who creep along the route each day. Many live in Inland Empire bedroom communities but hold jobs in Orange and Los Angeles counties.
The 91 bottleneck has vexed planners for decades. A partial answer was provided a decade ago with the opening of toll lanes along a portion of the freeway in Orange County, offering commuters a quicker pay-as-you-go method. Last year, new lanes were added to the 241 tollway, which cuts from the 91 to south Orange County.
There's not a lot of room to add more toll-free lanes because the 91 runs through a narrow canyon amid several mountain ranges. In recent years, planners have talked about tunneling 11.5 miles through the Cleveland National Forest to build a new route into Orange County.
But those plans on are hold because there is no money for the estimated $8.6-billion project, Zlotnik said.
County transportation leaders will gather at 10 a.m. Thursday at 8712 E. Santa Ana Canyon Road, just off the 91, to dedicate the new lane.
[For the record: Joel Zlotnik's name was misspelled in an earlier version.]
-- Catherine Saillant
Photo: Traffic on the 91 Freeway. Credit: Los Angeles Times