Temecula moves forward to relieve traffic congestion

The recent purchases of several key parcels – deals totaling $4.5 million that will force several businesses to move or close – have set the stage for Temecula to build the city’s fifth bridge over Murrieta Creek.

The purchases – which will result in the city razing three buildings – are crucial pieces in traffic circulation project that will cost nearly $20 million when Overland Drive is eventually extended across Murrieta Creek.

The project, where work is expected to begin in February or March, would become the fourth major traffic circulation improvement to be under way at the same time in the fast-growing city.

“There’s a lot going on right now,” said Greg Butler, Temecula’s longtime director of public works who was recently promoted to assistant city manager.

Two major projects – the replacement of the aging Main Street bridge and the first phase of the French Valley interchange – are now in full swing. The Overland Drive extension will now join another project – replacing the congested freeway interchange at Highway 79 South – in the on-deck circle.

In June, Temecula council members voted to spend $5.6 million to buy a final chunk of land – a site that includes a busy gas station, car wash and market – that will be needed to revamp the often-clogged exit and entrance ramps at Interstate 15 and Highway 79 South.

That purchase boosted the land acquisition costs to more than $13 million for the upcoming work aimed at easing traffic congestion at that crucial traffic bottleneck. The cost of that project – including the construction work – will total about $45.3 million when the land, construction and other costs are totaled.

The construction work, which will cost nearly $14.5 million, is expected to begin before July and take a year or more to finish.

Within that time frame, work is also expected to begin on the extension of Overland Drive. That project will be done in two phases, and it will mark the end of another chapter in Temecula’s continuing efforts to connect the parts of the 30-square-mile city that are split by a flood-prone creek and an interstate highway.

The beginning of the Overland Drive saga began about 20 years ago, which was when many residents complained that bursts of new homes in the area were followed by snarled intersections and jammed freeway ramps.

City engineers expect to seek construction bids for the first phase of the project, which will extend Overland Drive to the creek’s eastern bank, in four to six months, Butler said. The construction portion of the first phase will cost more than $1.7 million and take about a year to complete.

The construction of the bridge, which will intersect with Diaz Road and Avenida Alvarado on the creek’s west side, will cost about $10 million. Depending on the availability of funds, that work is expected to start in the fiscal year that begins in July 2015, city documents show.

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