HESPERIA Beginning today, after decades of waiting, the bulldozers are moving, beginning the construction of the Ranchero Road underpass.

No one is more conscious of the long time Hesperians have waited than the staff at City Hall.

"I want to welcome you to the long-awaited and I mean long-awaited groundbreaking for the underpass," City Manager Mike Podegracz said last Wednesday, addressing the dignitaries at the underpass' official groundbreaking. "I first heard about the legend of Ranchero when I first moved up here in 1983."

"The Legend of Ranchero Road" was the recurring theme for the Wednesday morning event, including invitations designed to look like a book of fairy tales and a flying pig motif on buttons, pins, decorations and refreshments.

The underpass will be the city's third east/west crossing of the Burlington Northern Santa Fe tracks that bisect the city.

"As a retired firefighter, I know how important this undercrossing is," Mayor Mike Leonard told those assembled. The underpass will eliminate up to seven miles of detour for emergency vehicles trying to cross over the railroad tracks. "When finished, it will change Hesperia."

The underpass has been a city priority since 1988, when the first city council identified a unified Ranchero Road as an ideal place for a rail crossing.

"I actually became a city employee 10 years ago, and one of my first tasks I was assigned to get this project moving forward," Podegracz said.

The project initially ran into funding issues, after the City Council decided its new city needed the cash for existing infrastructure rather than building additional infrastructure. The underpass was put back on the front burner in 2001, and city officials have spent the past decade negotiating state red tape and securing funding for the $27 million project.

"We did not quit," Councilman Russ Blewett said. "We have accomplished something great and it will be great for citizens of this community."

The underpass is actually only the first phase of a planned three-phase Ranchero Road Corridor project. Beyond the underpass, seven miles of Ranchero Road will be widened and connected to a new Interstate 15 interchange in the coming years.

Councilman Paul Bosacki said he and Blewett both live pretty close to the site, joking, "..so this project is really for us, to let us get out of Dodge and get on the freeway."

"Main Street is as bad as the interstates in LA," Leonard said. "Let's get this going, so we can get that traffic off Main Street."

Officials estimate that the underpass will be open to the public in June 2013.

"Good things come to people who wait and wait and wait," Councilman Thurston "Smitty" Smith said.

Beau Yarbrough may be reached at (760) 956-7108 or at beau@HesperiaStar.com. Follow us on Facebook at Facebook.com/Hesperia.Star.

Ranchero Road Corridor Project

Phase I The Underpass

Total estimated cost: $27 million. Paid for with $11.6 million in federal and state funds and $15.4 million funds from the city of Hesperia.

Estimated completion date: June 2013

Phase II I-15 Interchange

Total estimated cost: $60 million. Paid for with $16 million in county and regional funds, $4.6 million in federal funds, $13.6 million in funds from the city of Hesperia. More funds still being raised.

Estimated completion date: November 2013

Phase III Widening Ranchero Road from the underpass through the freeway

Total estimated cost: $15 million. No funding allocated yet.

Estimated completion date: Unknown