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$133.4 Million Rail Crossing Project in Jurupa Valley Is Set to Begin Soon

The Van Buren Boulevard-Jurupa Road crossroads in Jurupa Valley is notoriously difficult to navigate. It’s worse when trains pass by on Union Pacific Railroad tracks that run parallel to Van Buren.

Dale Derstine, who lives nearby and drives across the busy crossroads and railroad crossing to reach customers for his water purification business, said, “Sometimes you may sit there for up to 10 minutes.”

“It’s a hardship just to go past that junction,” Derstine remarked.

It’s going to get a lot more difficult. Not only for drivers, though. Customers will go elsewhere during construction, according to company owners, because getting in and out, for instance, hair styling or bicycle maintenance will be a hassle.

Riverside County and Jurupa Valley are preparing to begin the construction phase of a $133.4 million project that would separate trains from vehicles — and cars from cars — to reduce delays. According to a county report, the construction would entail digging Jurupa Road 23 feet below the present crossing and constructing bridges for Van Buren and the train.

Construction will begin around Labor Day and end in June 2023, according to Mark Lancaster, the county’s transportation director.

Derstine is all set to get to work.

“I’m sure it’ll be a nightmare,” he said. “However, there isn’t much you can do about it.” It must be completed.”

Jurupa Valley residents and people from all over the Inland Empire who pass through the city of 110,000 should expect respite once work is completed, according to Mayor Lorena Barajas.

“Wait times and the anguish of being stranded on a train will be eliminated,” Barajas added. “We’ve been late for appointments.” We’ve been running late. I also despise being late.”

She said that the new Jurupa Road underpass will minimize air pollution caused by idle vehicles as well as make driving in the region safer.

Lancaster wrote in an email that traffic volume on Van Buren Road averaged 38,000 cars, motorcycles, buses, and trucks per day in 2018, while traffic on Jurupa Road averaged 12,000 cars, motorcycles, buses, and trucks per day, with heavy vehicles accounting for 16 percent and 12 percent of the traffic mix, respectively. According to statistics from the Federal Railroad Administration, 21 trains and two switching trains passed across the Jurupa Road crossing per day in 2020.

Aside from constructing an underpass and bridges to divide the two lanes of traffic, the project also entails creating a connection road so that cars heading down Van Buren can still access Jurupa Road and vice versa.

“We’ll build a route to connect the two because they’re both vital,” Lancaster added.

Several locations, including Jurupa and Pedley roads, will have traffic lights constructed. Zina Whitney, who lives near the railroad crossing and works for the Jurupa Area Recreation and Park District as the recreation and community partnership manager, said Pedley and Jurupa is a four-way stop, and the traffic signal will be a welcome improvement.

“That will be fantastic since traffic is congested in every way,” Whitney explained.

To begin, a sufficient sum of money must be placed aside.

The county has a $108.4 million state grant for the project, but the cost has risen to $133.4 million, leaving a $25 million gap, Lancaster said in a letter to the Riverside County Transportation Commission on June 16 asking assistance. The regional agency’s deputy executive director, John Standiford, said the commission will consider providing $25 million in Measure A sales-tax revenue to cover the deficit on July 14.

The county hopes to award a building contract shortly after that, according to Lancaster.

At the same time, according to Lancaster, the county is finalizing property purchases and railroad agreements.

“Union Pacific Railroad is pleased that this important infrastructure project is underway in Jurupa Valley, and we believe it is an important investment in the county, facilitating traffic flow for both the railroad and the public,” said Robynn Tysver, a spokesperson for the company in Omaha, in an email on Thursday.

Lancaster confirmed the acquisition of 19 private-property plots in an email. According to him, a whole gas station property was purchased, and in most cases, just a portion of a land was required for the project.

Along the west side of Van Buren, there are abandoned gas stations, Mexican restaurants, pet grooming salons, and laundromats.

Others are concerned that construction delays and detours would harm their firms irreparably.

Maria Gutierrez, owner of Marie’s Beauty Salon on Van Buren and Jurupa Road, claimed a pipe burst and flooded her establishment in early 2019, forcing her to close for three months. Then there was the coronavirus epidemic, which prompted her to close three times last year and drove half of her clientele away, according to her.

In recent months, Gutierrez said she has been gently regaining her clientele.

“And now we have this,” she explained. “As a result, I’m concerned about what will happen to my company.”

Don Jackson, the owner of Southridge Cycling, is also concerned.

Jackson remarked of the proposal, “I believe it’s a fantastic concept.” “I’m in favor of anything that improves public safety.”

Customers would have to traverse a maze of closures to get to his business, he claimed, because of the work. “Will they say, ‘I’m simply not going to bother with it.'” “I’m simply going down the road to a competitor’s store,” you say.

Jackson, a long-time local, recounted how businesses and restaurants lost a lot of money when the Limonite Avenue underpass at Van Buren was completed in the early 1990s.

“Those firms out there took a huge hit,” he added. “That’s what makes me nervous.”

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