by Melissa Lau
photography by Liz Lucsko
On a hot, sunny September afternoon, thousands of people climbed out of their cars and walked on the newly extended 210 Freeway. Walking down the Towne Avenue off ramp and onto what would typically be oncoming traffic, people resembled ants disappearing into a colony. Baseline Road was characteristic of California’s rush hour, while the newly finished freeway transformed into a parking lot for numerous vehicles. This, however, was not because of a traffic standstill. On the afternoon of Sept. 7, 2002, the cities of La Verne and Claremont hosted “Tour de Freeway.” Residents were invited to walk, run or ride their bikes on the new lanes of Interstate 210. Bikers peddled a 12-mile route on the westbound lanes, while walkers strolled on the eastbound lanes. More festivities took place on the eastbound lanes with fairground-like booths. A classic rock band, “The Answer,” entertained everyone by performing songs by Chicago, the Doors and The Beatles.
The city of Upland also held a similar event, “Come Play on the Freeway,” Sept. 28. It began at the Mountain Avenue ramps and ended at Euclid Avenue. A mixture of smells filled the air with hints of breakfast burritos and kettle corn. Classic cars, ranging from a 1931 Model A Ford to a blue 1956 Chevy Bel-Air, lined the freeway like beauty pageant contestants. Like the Tour de Freeway event, people were given the opportunity to walk, run or bike on the westbound lanes of the freeway. Although smoke health concerns due to the raging Williams mountain fire were of concern to some participants, activities and entertainment for children and adults were in abundance. Participants were advised to monitor the level of activity they thought would be best.
These events were only the prelude of the important event to come. The clock ticked, and residents and commuters waited eagerly to hear the words that would change travel patterns: “The freeway is open.” At noon Nov. 24, city officials, Caltrans workers and state officials involved in the freeway planning and construction, gathered on the freeway’s new portion before the freeway’s public opening. Keynote speaker Maria Contreras-Sweet, secretary of the Business Transportation and Housing Agency for the state of California, thanked Caltrans and the California Highway Patrol, which was followed by applause from the audience of city representatives. Contreras-Sweet said the freeway’s extension would provide a safe, secure and reliable environment. “It provides mobility, upward mobility,” she said.
Other speakers added to the excitement. “[The extension is] truly a result of government working at its best,” said Allan Lawrence, California Transportation Commission member. Speaker Dennis Mountjoy, assemblyman of the 59th district, exclaimed,”Alleluia and what a perfect day.”He added his remembrance of Bill Lancaster, who was “instrumental in fighting for this freeway.” Following the speakers, the participants climbed into old cars and rode through a red ribbon to indicate the official opening of Interstate 210. They waved joyously, honking their cars’ antique horns and blaring their sirens. An old fire truck from La Verne’s early days paraded down the new route.
This opening will not be the last for the freeway, though. Three parts are involved in the completion of Interstate 210. The first part was a six-mile stretch that runs from Sierra Avenue in Fontana to Day Creek Boulevard in Rancho Cucamonga that opened August 2001. The section of the freeway that runs from Day Creek Boulevard to Foothill Boulevard in La Verne opened to the public at 3:30 p.m., Nov. 24. This 14-mile stretch has a total of eight lanes in both directions, which consists of three regular lanes and one carpool lane in each direction. The third part of the freeway will be an eight-mile stretch through Rialto and San Bernardino. Construction of this final section of the freeway is scheduled to begin May 2003. It is expected to be completed in 2006 and will join with Interstate 215.
Prior to the completion, the home stretch of the 210 Freeway ran from San Dimas to the end of the freeway at Foothill Boulevard in La Verne. This section, also known as Route 30, continued as Baseline Road. Funding for this freeway, which added up to $1.1 billion, is a combination of federal, state and local dollars. Cheryl Donahue, public information officer for San Bernardino Associated Governments, says this freeway has been paved with “life-long pavement” that will add an extra 20 years to the 20-year normal withstanding of wear and tear. “It’s supposed to make it a nice, smooth ride for drivers,” she says.
Thoughts of the continuation of the 210 Freeway, also known as the Foothill Freeway, have been around since 1949. Although a gas crisis during Jerry Brown’s reign as governor led to the belief that Route 30 should be taken out of the State Highway System, a study concluded that jobs would increase greatly in the area if another freeway were opened. This plan was approved in 1996. Former La Verne City Councilman Patrick Gatti says the actual planning of the freeway began around 1982 or 1984. A groundbreaking ceremony was held October 1997 in Upland, and construction for the freeway began the following year.
Originally, the extension of Interstate 210 was scheduled to open mid-October 2002. The opening date, however, was changed to Nov. 24 because of paving problems. The European concrete laying machine broke, and the parts to fix the machine, which had to be imported, caused the delay of the freeway’s completion and opening. According to the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin, by the end of October, the paving was complete, and the grooving of the pavement was scheduled to begin.
City officials hope the completion of the freeway will lessen the congestion on Baseline Road, Foothill Boulevard and Arrow Highway. The freeway is supposed to remove 43,000 cars from traveling on local streets. In a written statement, Gov. Gray Davis says, “This is another important step in providing congestion relief and improving the quality of life for commuters between Los Angeles and San Bernardino Counties.” “And it will be a great alternative for Interstate 10,” says Donahue, who uses the 10 Freeway frequently. Since the 210 freeway connects with the 15 Freeway, drivers will no longer have to merge onto the 10 Freeway to connect with Interstate 15.
All factors, both good and bad, will affect local businesses. Gatti feels, however, that the freeway will actually bring in business. He says the traffic on Foothill was causing people to avoid shopping in La Verne, and that the decrease in traffic will cause people not to be afraid to drive through the city. He says that the traffic will be coming to the businesses, rather than just passing through. “I don’t see [the freeway] hurting [downtown La Verne] at all,” he says.
Gary Moon, director of freeway construction for SANBAG, who represented the San Bernardino County communities during this process, feels that his county will benefit from the freeway. “It’s favorable because a lot of businesses thrive on freeway visibility and freeway access,” Moon says. He also says the diversion of regional traffic will encourage people to shop at local businesses. In addition to local businesses, he adds that business in Fontana and Rialto will also benefit because of freeway access and exposure.
Still, there remains the fear that the traffic problem may not actually be solved. Because of the extension, more people will be passing through the cities of La Verne, Upland, Claremont and Rancho Cucamonga. Off ramps in these cities may actually tie up Arrow Highway and Baseline Road even more.
Gatti, on the La Verne City Council from 1982 to March 2003, has helped in the planning of the freeway. He says he went to Sacramento and Orange County to gain funding. He also helped decide what the freeway would look like. “We took a look at a lot of freeways,” Gatti says. He also says the Council took a look at the possible problem of trucks using the freeway.”We played a little with the truck regulation,” he says. “Once we accepted federal funding, we weren’t allowed to ban trucks.” Gatti also says there were possibilities regulating making the freeway tolled. “It has come down to being just a freeway,” he says.
In the midst of all the hype, there are also serious issues that must be considered with the opening of such a massive structure. The equipment problems that occurred before the freeway’s public opening are possibly foreshadowing other environmental problems to come. A 1991 newsletter from the Community Association for a Responsible Environment, says that 229 dwellings and 13 historic sites would be affected or displaced. From the beginning, the freeway was already taking its toll on human and non-human residents. Dr. Robert Neher, professor of biology at the University of La Verne, agrees that the freeway is a plus economically, but not necessarily so environmentally. The giant corridor will intrude into animal habitats. “It becomes an incredible barrier for animals [in terms of moving] north and south,” Neher explains.
In addition to the removal of homes and dwellings, other factors will be added. Cars emit carbon monoxide and other toxins, which will soon be abundant in the air surrounding the freeway. Neher explains that because cars travel at a constant speed rather than continuously stopping and going, less pollution is emitted; however, he says that some people have not considered just how many more vehicles will be driving through the area. Although the amount of emissions per vehicle will decrease, the amount of cars in general, will be greater and cause much more pollution. Noise is another often overlooked pollutant that will affect local people and animals. Noise is a part of daily life, but over time, can cause damage. Adding the noise factors of the freeway to the equation will no doubt, have even greater effects. “[The noise] may be not a whole lot more than we have, but any is a detriment to our own health and any other animals,” Neher says. “We don’t realize the fact that really loud noises affect our body physiology.”
An increasing number of people passing through the city may also contribute to higher accident statistics and possibly more crime. Dr. Charles Lofgren, a Claremont resident and Croker professor of American history and politics at Claremont McKenna College, explains that the freeway will contribute to civic decay. He says that the effects of a freeway on housing can be seen by looking at the area near the 10 Freeway. “It will not turn the area close to it into an attractive area,” he says. In addition, freeways tend to determine visual boundaries. Thus, the cities the freeway will run through will be divided by the massive structure. The location of shopping and eating habits will change. “Old Claremont vs. New Claremont. The Village vs. North Claremont. The areas between the two freeways vs. the luxurious areas along the foothills. The areas that are safe vs. the areas that are violence-ridden, especially after dark,” Lofgren forecasts in the 1991 CARE newsletter.
During the opening of the freeway, Contreras-Sweet said the freeway was not meant to pull the communities apart, but to bridge them. She said Caltrans’ answer to pollution was a carpool lane. In addition, she said sound walls were built before construction began in consideration for the residents. Gatti says because of the below grade status, the freeway becomes less of a barrier. In addition to enhancing the view, a below grade freeway will also reduce the sound levels, he says. “The thing I was able to accomplish with the Council was to make it from above grade to below grade,” he says.
California has been waiting a long time for the completion of this massive structure. The question to ask, however, was whether the Interstate 210 was worth the wait in the first place.