photo by Ian Gratz

photo by Ian Gratz

by Greg MacDonald
photography by Ian Gratz

Traffic moving at a snail’s pace. Diesel trucks carrying cargo through town. Drivers, running late, blaring their horns in road rage fits. Police officers pulling over speeding motorists. Sounds familiar, does it not? It hits close to home, as in the city of La Verne home — more specifically — Foothill Boulevard.

Yes, this is the scenario every day for La Verne along Foothill. The street serves as a runway for traffic going home to the Inland Empire. For others, Foothill is the beginning of a journey west into the heart of Los Angeles County.

However, with the new millennium, La Verne is going to be changing its complexion, as the Route 210 Freeway will snake 100 feet north of Baseline Road and, eventually, connect with the 15 and 215 freeways, cutting through established residences in La Verne, Claremont, Upland, Rancho Cucamonga, Fontana and Rialto along the way.

With this new addition to the highway, traffic on Foothill Boulevard in La Verne will be greatly decreased and quite possibly lower congestion will result on the surrounding 57, 10, 71 and 60 freeways-at least in theory. In 2020, traffic projections call for gridlocked freeways based on population density increases.

Do not get too excited just yet about not seeing any more 18-wheelers roll through La Verne, however. The current construction plans call for the Route 210 Freeway extension to open-in its entirety-sometime in 2002. Until then, each city, including La Verne, will have construction zones throughout, with the progress of each paralleling the other so that the freeway can begin operation as a single unit. The new 28.2-mile slab of Route 210 will offer much of the same as its older sections do. In addition to being an eight-lane freeway — including a high occupancy vehicle (HOV or carpool) lane on each side-the extension, at least through La Verne, will at times be 30 feet below ground level, a design that may mitigate somewhat the sound level for the surrounding residents. The 30 feet below grade was not originally part of the Route 210 plans, says Patrick Gatti, city of La Verne councilman, but the digging should not keep the extension from opening on time.

“There have been some small obstacles that have come about,” Marco Ruano, Route 210 corridor project manager, says. “But that is expected when you are excavating and digging underground. Generally, if there are going to be any problems, you find them when the foundation work is being done. Once we get up in the air and start construction of the super structure, everything should go pretty smoothly.”

Sound walls, too, will muffle decibel levels. The new section of Route 210 will also feature 14 new street interchanges.

So, what happened to the homes and residents that the Route 210 extension affected? Gatti, who has been on the Route 210 committee since 1982, reports that 138 homes in La Verne — the majority of which were built in the early 1980s — were razed for the freeway. These residents, Gatti says, were compensated by the state of California. Obviously, the value of these 138 homes dropped considerably when the freeway extension was finally approved and made official with its groundbreaking on Feb. 2, 1999. So instead of giving the residents market value for a home that was eventually going to be leveled, the state appraised each home within a one-mile radius of its location, Gatti says, meaning 138 locations were given adequate compensation.

“I think we were treated fairly,” says Debra Radtke, who, with her husband Mark, rented a home from her grandfather Fred Lee for 12 years. “I heard that a few of the neighbors were holding out,” she says of her old community on Landeros Avenue. “One of the neighbors wasn’t there that long. I think they were wrong in thinking they were being treated unfairly because anyone who bought there knew that the construction was a possibility. Even when we got there, we knew that it was something of a possibility. But it was so off and on so many times during the years we were there, we were like, ‘Yeah, when it happens, we’ll believe it.’ And then it came down to it, and everybody knew it was going to be something in the future.”

In addition to pricing and buying each home, the state aided homeowners and renters in their move, and provided similar amenities in their new home. For example, if a resident had two phone lines in the house, the state provided the means for two phones lines in his new home.

“Nobody wanted to move, nobody wanted to relocate from the nice neighborhood,” Radtke says. “Actually, I am kind of anxious for them to finish now. It will make my commute a lot easier.”

Aside from the homes that had to be torn down to make way for Route 210, the existing residential areas are going to stay just that-residential. Both Mayor Jon Blickenstaff and Gatti feel there is no need for commercial zones along Route 210 because La Verne has plenty of businesses on Foothill Boulevard.

And even if a prospective buyer were to purchase a plot of land or residence for the purpose of opening a commercial establishment, such as an automobile dealership, Gatti says the entrepreneur would have to go before an appeal committee in the city of La Verne and apply to have the zone changed from a residential to a commercial.

Not only are the residential zones affected, but some of La Verne’s streets will also be redirected. According to the September 1999 edition of the “Route 210 Freeway Newsletter,” published by the California Department of Transportation, the following changes will occur on La Verne’s streets:

• Cul-de-sacs will be constructed at Williams Avenue, south of the freeway; Bixby Drive; Edminster Lane; Chelsea Drive; Miller Avenue, south of the freeway; Pleasant Street, north of the freeway; and Dawn Avenue, north of the freeway.

• These streets will be realigned: Miller Avenue, north of the freeway to Pinot Street; Pleasant Street, south of the freeway to Alpha Circle; Landeros Avenue, north of the freeway to Realitos Avenue; Landeros Avenue, south of the freeway to Cedar Street; and Dawn Avenue, south of the freeway to Beech Street.

• The following streets will be removed: Yuma Circle, Mead Circle, Omega Circle and Camphor Avenue.

One might ask why a Metrolink system or something similar was not included in the plans of the extension? The obvious answer is cost. A track for a rail system in the middle of the freeway would nearly double the bill for the Route 210 Freeway addition, and it would also widen the freeway, affecting more residents. “If you wanted to see someone who had a far vision about how things should be in Southern California, you would only have to go to Disneyland,” Gatti says. “Walt Disney put that Monorail in and had everyone in the city of Los Angeles to Orange County touting his Monorail system. And his Monorail system is from Sweden.

“And if you take a look at it and say, ‘Why can’t we have something like that in the middle of every freeway that we have? Why can’t you do it? Look how fast it would go.’ Well, it all boils down to, not only cost, but also who manufactures that system. It doesn’t come from the United States. It comes from Sweden,” he says. “So there is probably a lot of reasons why we won’t have the Monorail system. But more to the point, the reason we don’t have the Metrolink system on our freeways is the cost. When you see where we did accomplish the Metrolink system, it was on old Santa Fe track. All the track had to be replaced, but it was just a matter of upgrading.”

Cost may not be the only factor as to why tracks are not included in the freeway’s plans. Technology may also play a significant role. Gatti says that technology is headed toward automatic driving systems for vehicles that use radar. “What the future holds for smart cars is going to be unbelievable,” Gatti says. “There are so many things that have happened in technology over the last 10 years on an exponential level. What will exist in the very near future? Maybe even by the time 2002 occurs, what the automobiles will have will just be amazing.”

So the 2002 model of the 210 Freeway is not yet the dawning of a new superhighway, where flying cars come and go. Instead, the Route 210 is more like that unfinished room in a house. The room that is put off until next summer for remodeling, then the next, then another one after that. So now, the addition to the Route 210 is more like adding a 1950s sofa to a room dedicated to the 21st century. “All of our freeways were designed somewhere about 1942,” Gatti says. “Before you and I were ever born, there were a couple of engineers who started drawing lines on paper, and they said, ‘These are all of the freeways we will ever need.’ And while we see new freeways being built, they are only new freeways as far as their construction — not their concept.”

And just like that unfinished room in the house, once the need came for it, the Route 210 Freeway became top priority for the city of La Verne and the other remodeling communities. “The whole freeway system for Southern California was predicated on the design of the integration of all of those freeways,” Gatti says, “so the traffic problems that we have on our freeways that we recognize and see on a daily basis are because those other freeways haven’t been constructed. It needs to be understood that new freeways aren’t being designed to augment the freeways that we currently have. They are only being designed because of what has taken place with construction of homes and businesses. But all of those lines and all of those freeways . . . the San Bernardino Freeway needed the 210 Freeway, the San Bernardino needed the 60 and the 71. It is all part of the original scheme of what that design was originally.”

So if the extension of Route 210 was always planned, why has it been over 20 years since the last slab of concrete was set in place in La Verne? “Jerry Brown, who was governor of California, brought in Adriana Gianturko,” Gatti says. “She was from back East and didn’t believe in the need for freeways, just in general. So for the period while Brown was in office, when she was there, freeways in California were not constructed unless they were actually in the process of being built before she got there.”

But just as Brown was about to hand over the reigns as California’s governor in 1984, another changing of the guard was occurring in La Verne. It was the attitude toward the freeway.

Committees began forming in La Verne’s City Hall to discuss plans on how to get Route 210 off La Verne’s door step and connected to the 215.

Gatti says he was a part of those meetings. “When I got on in 1982, it was the very first committees that I wanted to sit in on, because I felt we needed to get the freeway completed and get the traffic off of our streets and through town.,” he says.

Now, some 17 years later, the constructions zones are up and getting Route 210 on its way. Gatti, though, does admit the freeway is an undesirable feature of La Verne. “It is unfortunate that we have the freeway,” he says, “and it is unfortunate that it ended up at our doorstep, and it is unfortunate that we had to push to get the freeway completed and through town. I would prefer not to see the freeway in our city at all just because of what you have to deal with. It changes a lot of the complexion of the city.”

Route 210 also changes the complexion of the budget. Sporting a $200 million price tag, the freeway became more costly with each passing year.

“It would not have been a $200 million freeway in 1975 if Jerry Brown had allowed that freeway to go on through,” Gatti says. “But in retrospect, you have to take a look at his politics, too.”