BRAWLEY — The message given here at the completion of the Brawley Bypass on Thursday morning may have been given atop gleaming concrete sandwiched between plowed fields, but it might as well have been our nation’s capital.
Jobs and unity were the names of the game as more than 100 state and local dignitaries and officials joined law enforcement officers and transportation workers in welcoming the long-awaited project finale.
The event was capped by a demonstration from the new Zero Emissions Hydrogen tractor-trailer, a near-silent green energy truck that gets triple the gas mileage of regular diesels.
“This is a big day for Caltrans, certainly a big day for the city of Brawley, and a big day for the region,” California Department of Transportation director Malcom Dougherty said.
“Certainly during this project it created jobs, but the long-term increase in jobs will be felt for years to come,” he said.
Begun in 1993 as a project study report, Thursday’s event represents the first, second and third phases of the new State Route 78/State Route 111 Expressway, known collectively as the Brawley Bypass project.
The $236 million project — funded by state and federal grants — connects Highway 111 out of Calexico and Imperial via an eight-mile loop around Brawley to the north.
Beginning sometime next month, travelers on northbound Highway 111 will stay on the new bypass toward Shank Road, looping over the New River and slightly south again until connecting with Highway 86/Highway 78 near Fredricks Road.
Five overpasses were included in the project, one each over North Eastern Road, the Southern Pacific Railroad, Highway 111 toward Calipatria, the New River, and Kalin Road.
“We are blessed to have great partners here,” Southern California Association of Governments executive director Hasan Ikhrata said. “This is an important county.”
“It really could not have been done without all of these entities working together,” Imperial County Transportation Commission executive director Mark Baza said.
“Sedalia Sanders, who couldn’t be here today, said, ‘This has been a regional labor of love,’” Baza relayed.
In addition to the talk about unity among Caltrans, SCAG, ICTC, Imperial County and Brawley had much to say on jobs and the state of the local economy.
“We’ve got to continue to work on our connections to the urban areas,” county Board of Supervisors vice chairman Gary Wyatt said.
“It is vital for our local economy to provide the safe and efficient transportation of goods and people through the Imperial Valley,” he said.
The same can be said of Westmorland, which may see increased traffic if the Brawley Bypass proves popular. If it becomes a problem, Wyatt said.
“It will give us a main corridor to import and export goods in and out of the county,” Imperial County Board of Supervisors chairman Mike Kelley said.
Kelley added that essentially more use of Highway 111 through the Valley equates to a better economy.
As far as the impact on Brawley, Mayor George Nava is optimistic.
“Truck traffic is a huge problem for the downtown area, so removing that will be a huge benefit not only to the business community but the community as a whole,” he said.
“By virtue of its name, the Brawley Bypass will bypass Brawley,” Nava said. “But as it is right now, with thousands of trucks going through every day, it is too dangerous for our community.”
“Our hope is that it will increase opportunities for businesses to move back into our downtown area and for our downtown businesses to stay there,” he said.
The Brawley Bypass will be available for travel sometime in the next few weeks, after the finishing touches — streetlights, repainting of lines, and guard rails — are completed.
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