News mixed for major E.C. road projects

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One long-awaited El Centro road project is getting much closer to reality, while another is stirring a bit after decades of dormancy. For motorists the good news involves the clogged intersection of South LaBrucherie Road and West Main Street. LaBrucherie currently narrows from four lanes just north of Main, causing a classic “bottleneck.

“It’s going to happen,” City Engineer Terry Hagen said of LaBrucherie and Main.

The $3.4-million project expected to see construction work begin in early 2017 will allow for two dedicated through lanes, and right- and left-turn lanes for both north- and southbound traffic on LaBrucherie, explained city Senior Engineer Abraham Campos. It is being funded through the voter-approved Measure D, which levies a countywide half-cent sales tax that is then reallocated back to municipalities for road improvements.

Work cannot begin until the city completes the process of acquiring two residences that face LaBrucherie and must be demolished to make room for the new lanes, Campos explained. The city is negotiating to purchase the properties and assist the residents with relocation, he said, adding that process is expected to take four to six months.

Several other residences along LaBrucherie will lose front-yard space to the widening, Campos said.

The improvements to LaBrucherie between just south of Barbara Worth Drive and Orange Avenue will include widening and the addition of street lighting, curb, gutter and sidewalk, Campos said. The rotation of the current traffic light at Main will be adjusted to accommodate for the lane additions.

The project that is further off is the extension of Imperial Avenue south over Interstate 8. That improvement has hung in limbo since the interstate was completed more than 40 years ago. It was initially opposed by downtown merchants who feared it would lead to commercial development that would bleed business from downtown.

Campos said the project has two segments: construction of a new bridge over the interstate, which is being overseen by the California Department of Transportation, and the extension of Imperial Avenue south of the interstate that is a city project.

Describing the project timeline as “fluid,” Campos explained, “We’re trying to make it (the bridge and street extension) as simultaneous as possible. We pushing to get it done.”

He added the city plan is to acquire the rights of way from the owners of the property to which Imperial Avenue would be extended. The farmland with irrigation canals would eventually be replaced by commercial development.

State funding delays have recently pushed the bridge project back from 2017 to 2019, Campos added, and the road extension will not begin until the bridge work begins. The entire project is estimated to cost about $30 million. By contrast, it would have cost just several million had it been built in the 1970s.

While motorists may express frustration over the time it takes to improve or add streets, former El Centro city council member Sedalia Sanders said a variety of factors cause delays. Having served in office from 1984-99 and 2003-15, she has a rare perspective.

“The need became apparent once housing was built on the west side,” Sanders said of the LaBrucherie widening. “It was always on the radar. It was a process. You have the (construction) funding situation. Then, once you start seeing the growth, how do you get the rights of way (acquiring property in the path of the new sections of street)? The cost was an issue.”

Sanders also explained that cities also often are faced with a number projects viewed as priorities, but they cannot all be done at once.

“Measure D, when it was renewed, ensured a stable funding stream for a lot of our transportation projects,” Sanders said of the initiative that was first approved in 1989 and renewed by voters in 2008 for 40 years. “You put the plan in in phases. You are not always able to implement it.”

Improvements had been done to Eighth Street and Main Street first.

“We could see a lot of pressure on Main Street and Eighth Street. We saw the need for another corridor and we looked at LaBrucherie,” Sanders said.

But unexpected events may intervene

“We had earthquake issues. We had to repair the water tanks,” Sanders said, noting how the major shaker in April 2010 forced the city to temporarily reset its priorities to repair infrastructure that was damaged.