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Imperial Ave. in E.C. Finally Going South
An artist’s rendering of the Interstate 8/Imperial Ave. interchange construction plans displayed at a forum in El Centro on Jan.13. The project will be completed by the California Department of Transportation. | Photo of Caltrans graphic by William Roller

Better Late Than Never: Imperial Ave. in E.C. Finally Going South

EL CENTRO — About a half century since Interstate 8 blazed a trail through Imperial County as part of a national highway project, work will finally begin to create an Imperial Avenue overpass.

Besides re-configuring a cumbersome interchange, the project will allow El Centro to extend Imperial Ave. south of the interstate. The initial effort to do that faltered in the 1970s amid resistance from downtown merchants.   

The California Department of Transportation and El Centro officials co-hosted a presentation on Jan. 13 to prepare residents and commuters for traffic disruptions on the way as a result of construction starting later this year.

The I-8/Imperial interchange reconfiguration, which will be done first, likely will result traffic snarls, explained Mayor Efrain Silva in a forum at the Caltrans Maintenance Station in El Centro.

“Today is an historic day and we have been anticipating these projects for many years,” said Silva. “As well as the new interchange that will (better) connect Imperial Avenue drivers with I-8, we’ll be able to connect Imperial Avenue drivers to our south side residents more efficiently.”

Besides interchange reconfiguration, the Caltrans work will prepare for a the subsequent El Centro project to extend Imperial Ave. south of the interstate.  

Silva cautioned residents to exercise patience, understanding and above all else to maintain caution while driving through construction cones. The benefits, he added, will be worth it.

“I predict the south part of the city will grow to be a thriving business area with restaurants, retail and business services,” added Silva. “We have waited so long for this so another two more years’ wait will be worth it.”

With Imperial Ave. terminating at the interstate, over the years residential and commercial development on El Centro’s south side oozed east toward Eighth and Fourth streets, and Dogwood Road. Most notably, the Imperial Valley Mall was built on Dogwood south of I-8, opening in 2005. 

Ross Cather, Caltrans division chief, noted the agency’s two-year project will replace the existing overpass bridge on the south side of Imperial Ave. and then install new on/off ramps to better allow Imperial Ave. traffic to access I-8.

“It’s important we get the word out well ahead of time,” said Cather, adding a second forum was scheduled for Jan. 15 at El Centro Regional Medical Center.

The Caltrans project will launch in late spring or early summer, noted Cathryn Bruce-Johnson, an agency public affairs officer. The work will be done in stages and at various times restrict access to the interchange.

Advantages for Motorists

The project’s primary benefit will be improved traffic flow, explained Kazim Mamdani, Caltrans design manager.

“It will also provide enhanced pedestrian and bicycle access along Imperial Avenue,” he said. “It should all be completed by the summer of 2022.”

The $42 million interchange project is supported by the county’s share of the California Transportation Commission funds, explained Mark Baza, Imperial County Transportation Commission executive director. He pointed out about $34 million is for construction while the remainder covered an environmental study, design and acquisition of a right-of-way.

Motorists need to be aware of traffic disruptions, he added.

“We ask that people pay close attention to directional signs and ask for everybody’s patience,” said Baza. “Your primary access routes to detour will be Fourth Street/Highway 86. Also, some may prefer the Dogwood interchange at Ross, or Even Hewes Highway and, depending how far a driver is going, maybe Forrester Road.”

Blazing Trail to South

Once the new overpass bridge is completed, El Centro is expected to begin the extension of Imperial Avenue to the south. That project will be done in four phases, explained Abraham Campos, city director of public works.

Phase 1 will extend Imperial Ave. out to Wake Avenue. That will cost $7 million with monies obtained from gas taxes and vehicle-registration fees under state Senate Bill 1, the local Measure D road-improvement sales tax, local street impact developer fees and state Surface Transportation Program funds. Phase 2 of the project would extend Imperial Avenue from Wake to Danenberg Drive, Phase 3 to Valley View Avenue and Phase 4 to McCabe Road. Funding for Phase 2 through 4 is still pending noted Campos, yet it is likely to come from the same sources as Phase 1.

This story is featured in the Jan 16, 2020 e-Edition.

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