Thermal bridge plans lead homeowners to move

POSTED: 06:26 PM PST Nov 19, 2012 
THERMAL, Calif. -

The Riverside County Board of Supervisors will vote on Tuesday about using more than $2.3 million in the first phase of plans for a bridge in Thermal.  They hope an overpass at the intersection of Grapefruit and Airport boulevards will ease traffic and safety issues at a railroad crossing.  However, not everyone agrees with the plans. The project cannot move forward without the county acquiring some land from a handful of homes and businesses in the area. They need the land to expand both roads along with other improvements.  The growth of the east valley prompted the board to pursue the bridge.  Their major concerns stem from safety and wait times which some residents say can last up to thirty minutes while a train is crossing.

"As population growth increases, the risk increases," said Supervisor John Benoit.  "We've finally reached the point where we've got the funding to build the overpass and eliminate the conflict between the railroad and the traffic." 

The funding comes at a tune of $30 million.  But, the plans come at a bigger price.  Some residents in the area do not want the plans to displace the long-standing stores in the area. "A lot of these businesses I know are privately owned, you know it would hurt them, their lives," said Mark Toribio.

Luis Ayala and his family have lived and worked on their land for the last eighteen years.  They recently signed to have the county take over their land, but not without some apprehension.  "In the beginning, I didn't think it was a good idea for us, because we've got our business right here but I can see it's good for the community," said Ayala. 

The family owns Ayala's Auto Repair as well as land where some of the other businesses in question are. Ayala is not walking away empty-handed. The county set aside more than $2 million to pay owners for land and help them move.  While some business owners want more for their land, the county says its the best it can do. "We've got to deal with today's values and that's set by state law," said Benoit.  "So let's hopefully get to the table and come to a rational and quick resolution of these things."

Benoit hopes other businesses in the area will follow  Ayala's lead and move forward.  "My family and I try to see the good news," said Ayala. "We can get another space, let's find new customers, but the important thing is, we can keep working."

If the county acquires all the land it needs, they could break ground as early as next summer.