Inland Empire commuters enduring traffic nightmare of 'pre-pandemic levels'

It's not an overstatement that in Southern California, we measure distances, not in miles but time spent in traffic. Locals schedule appointments, even turn down possible love connections, based on traffic patterns. 

For years, the 405 Freeway was the king of traffic terror, but commuters from the Inland Empire say another highway now wears the crown.

"It's the 10 Freeway," insists Jose Moya. 

He would know. Moya is a trucker whose routes are regularly slowed by construction on the 10 Freeway. 

"It's just the way it is," said Moya, who adds it's the price of seeing our tax dollars at work.

"Nearly 300,000 daily trips come through here each day," said Tim Watkins, of the San Bernardino County Transportation Authority. 

He says the 10 Freeway carries the most traffic of any freeway in the county. 

"Observationally, it seems that traffic is at pre-pandemic levels," Watkins adds.  

But he says there has been one big change during the pandemic is more people have moved to the Inland Empire and are working remotely or at odd hours, which means when you'll see brake lights is more of a guessing game than ever.

"Normally the traffic was a little more predictable morning commutes evening return now we see it throughout the day and night," he explains.

The SBCTA is hoping the massive 10 Freeway project will eventually make commutes easier. The agency is adding two express lanes to the 10-mile stretch of the freeway from the Los Angeles County line to Interstate 15. 

"We expect this project to be finished in Summer 2013," said Watkins. 

Crews are also widening or replacing 18 bridges, working on interchanges and rehabilitating outside lanes, wrapping multiple projects all into one, hoping to mitigate the impact on traffic.

"It's going to be toll roads," said Joe Willmer, who lives next door to the 10 Freeway project, and doubts the toll lanes will ease traffic 

"How many people are going to pay for the toll roads?" Moya agrees, "It's going to help the people who can afford to pay it for it but not everybody else."

But the SBCTA says it's studied the problem and hopes to encourage carpooling by waiving the toll fees for drivers with two or more passengers. Watkins also says for every person who pays the tolls, that's one less car in the other lanes. 

"I think it's one of those things that it's a value of time consideration," Watkins said.

The express lane project is being financed, Watkins said by a federal loan which will be repaid through the money raised by the toll fees. He adds the agency is also getting money from a voter-approved half-cent sales tax that will raise $6 billion over 30 years and is constantly looking for other sources of funding to improve roads.

"At SBCTA it's not one project fixes all problems," said Watkins.