By Nate Jackson
A month after its removal, Rancho Cucamonga motorists still glance up at the narrow, topless corridor once connected by Foothill Boulevard’s Pacific Electric railroad bridge near Baker Street on Route 66.
Until last July, this phantom overpass was an informal thoroughfare linking the multi-million dollar Pacific Electric Bike Trail, a 21-mile path from downtown Rialto to downtown Claremont. These days, cyclists and pedestrians on either side of the missing bridge eventually run into a locked, chain-link gate.
A carved course of street lights and smooth concrete come to an abrupt and gravelly end.
After decades of waiting, the city commenced a year-long plan for a six-lane road on Foothill Boulevard, between Grove and Vineyard avenues, along with a bigger, pedestrian-friendly trail bridge. However, despite positive local sentiments, cyclists, pedestrians and business owners wonder how construction of this historical strip of public transit will affect them.
“It’s a tough thing with this type of construction,” says Mike Fournier, owner of Auto RV Specialists. Fournier’s 15-year business butts up against the west side of the bridge. “We don’t know what’s going to happen between October and March. We’re hoping for the best, but waiting for the worst.”
According to Deputy City Manager Linda Daniels, the city’s plans to expand this area of Route 66 have stalled since the early ’90s due to a lack of state funding. Daniels says it’s taken the local government almost two decades to secure funds to move ahead with the project. Yup, two decades.
The current budget for the new bridge and expanded roads is estimated at $19 million, says project manager Curt Billings. With the project deadline more than a year away, Billings is confident that a new overpass on the trail is a necessity for local transit.
“The bridge was never meant for pedestrian crossing,” says Billings. “It didn’t have guardrails to protect people from falling off the abutments at either end of the bridge.”
The goal is to complete the street widening and bridge by Thanksgiving of 2011. Plans to widen the streets between San Bernardino Road and Vineyard Avenue begin in October.
Despite the bridge closure, Billings says some pedestrians still use various, unsafe short cuts through the bridge area instead of city-approved detours that take you from Vineyard, to Arrow and back up to Grove where the trail rejoins.
However, most avid cyclists like Tina Corn abandoned that area of the trail altogether until the bridge could be rebuilt. Corn, who leads a Sunday ride for female beginners in a local bike club—Cycling Connection—used to cross the bridge on a weekly ride to Claremont.
“Getting off the trail and trying to find a safe, low traffic route around Foothill Boulevard is very difficult,” Corn says.
Meanwhile, local businesses west of the bridge project are more concerned about the construction that comes with widening the roads through Route 66.
Jim Moffat owns the Red Hill Coffee Shop on Foothill, a restaurant close to the bridge and housed by a building that dates back to 1943. It has about 25 parking spaces. Besides concerns about losing customer access to his business during construction, he also says he’s in danger of losing at least six parking spots painted on a city-owned easement.
“That has a huge impact on us because we have a tiny parking lot,” says Liz Parnis, a Red Hill employee.
In an effort to abate concerns about traffic problems—similar to those incurred by last year’s construction on the Haven railroad bridge—Billings says the city will not be closing the road near the Pacific Electric trail area that intersects Foothill. However, when the project begins it’s next phase, traffic speed will undoubtedly slow down. However, not everyone is sour about that. Fournier actually sees it as a good thing.
As you slow down, traffic [and] people slow down and look to the side of the road instead of focusing on the narrow bridge,” he says.