A six-lane bridge that will ease the traffic flow in and out of Beaumont via state Route 60 is steps closer to reality with the groundbreaking held Feb. 1 at the site of the long-awaited project.

The city of Beaumont held the groundbreaking ceremony, which was attended by the Beaumont City Council, Riverside County Supervisor Marion Ashley, the Beaumont Chamber of Commerce, and local dignitaries and residents.

The project is located on Potrero Boulevard and the bridge will cross over Route 60 connecting Jack Rabbit Trail and the Interstate 10/Route 60.

Before the ceremony began, Councilman Lloyd White told the Record Gazette that the project was approved by the voters and he never thought this would happen, referring to the Potrero interchange.

The city of Beaumont is the lead agency on the project, which will cost $28 million for Phase 1 and $27 million for Phase 2.

The Potrero Interchange has been discussed by the city since the early 2000s. The project will connect the ramp on Western Knolls to Potrero Boulevard, north of the freeway.

There also will be freeway widening at Western Knolls at Route 60 and the construction of acceleration and deceleration lanes on Route 60 and median barriers.

Phase 2 will include a partial cloverleaf interchange and ramps.

Beaumont Chamber board president Brian Sylva also told the Record Gazette that he has been waiting a long time to see this project come to fruition. Sylva and his wife moved to Beaumont in July 2010.

“I was hoping for it just because of the ease of access between Riverside and the Moreno Valley area,” Sylva said.

He also said it will benefit not only the residents, but the businesses in Beaumont as well.

Beaumont city manager Todd Parton welcomed the audience to the groundbreaking.

“Today’s the day that the city of Beaumont and their partnering agencies have been waiting for,” Parton said. “Some say it may be a day that they would never see.”

Anne Mayer, executive director of the Riverside County Transportation Commission, said she also doubted that this day would come. Money had been allocated for the project and the city of Beaumont just let the project languish, Mayer said.

If the federal money had not been used, it would have transferred to another regional project, Mayer said.

The Potrero Interchange has been an important project in the San Gorgonio Pass and needed completion, Mayer said.

“A bridge has been needed for quite some time,” she said.

Mike Beauchamp, deputy district director of construction for Caltrans District 8, said it is vital to have a safe, sustainable, integrated and efficient transportation system. Beauchamp said that District 8 is committed to improving the transportation system in Riverside county and that SB1, allocated for transportation funding, includes 200 fix-it projects estimated at a total of $5 billion.

Beauchamp said that there are some important points to remember during the construction of the bridge and other traffic improvement projects. When you approach a construction zone, stay alert, avoid distractions and don’t talk on the phone. Slow down, keep enough room between you and the car in front of you, and keep your eyes on the road.

Riverside county supervisor Marion Ashley said that the Potrero Interchange is a key regional connection and that the new bridge will provide a lot of relief to Highway 79 and 60.

Ashley said that regional partnerships are important. “When we work together, we can accomplish so much,” Ashley said.

Beaumont mayor Nancy Carroll said that federal highway funding, grants and development impact fees have helped pay for the Potrero Interchange.

“This has allowed the project to move forward without burdening our residents,” Carroll said.

Banning city councilman Art Welch, representing State Senator Mike Morrell, said the Potrero Interchange is a vital project for the San Gorgonio Pass.

“This is a great step for the San Gorgonio Pass and all of the residents in it,” Welch said.

In mid-January, the city held an informational workshop by Falcon Engineering, which is involved in the project.

Dennis Green, outreach coordinator for Falcon Engineering, said at the meeting that this is just Phase 1 of the project. Completing this portion will improve safety for motorists along Route 60, provide economic growth along with access to industrial areas.

Currently, there is limited freeway access and no acceleration or deceleration lanes, Green said.

The six-lane bridge will feature center medians and bicycle lanes.

Construction will be done by Falcon Engineering Services and Ortiz Enterprises.

The first phase should be finished by early 2019, weather permitting, Green said.

Typical work hours will be between 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday.

There will be a dozen times when SR60 will have full closure from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. on weeknights. There will be no weekend work, Green assured residents.

Detours will be provided during full freeway closures.

Green said that residents should expect reduced lane width, noise during the day and heavy equipment crossing.

Green said that elected officials and emergency responders have been briefed about the work and that the California Highway Patrol will work at night on patrolling the area.

There are still plans to do outreach with businesses around these areas, Green said.

Beaumont City Council will be provided updates and there will be construction alerts.

One resident asked why the work can’t be done on weekends and Green said that Caltrans wants to avoid full freeway closures on weekends.

The project also will create thousands of new jobs because there will be 2,000 acres for commercial and industrial buildings.

Staff Writer Julie Farren may be reached at jfarren@recordgazette.net.

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