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Two and a half years from now, Hesperia residents should actually be able to drive through the Ranchero Road Underpass, after waiting on the project for decades.

Yes, the Ranchero Road Underpass is really happening

If project had not been approved by the end of the month, city would have lost $3.9m in federal funding

Staff Writer

It’s not surprising that some Hesperia residents are skeptical about the idea that the Ranchero Road Underpass is finally going to be built this year.

Hesperia Star editor Peter Day is among that number: His editorial in the June 21, 2011 edition of the Star was titled “We’ll believe it when we see it.”

“I had to laugh about it, actually, when I saw it,” said Scott Priester, the City of Hesperia’s Director of Development Services. “We know, this project’s been the butt of jokes for so long, and we understand that.”

It was easy for him to laugh, though: His office had received an email from the California Department of Transportation shortly after 11 a.m. the day before giving the city go-ahead that it’s been waiting for since 1989: “You are hereby authorized to begin the construction phase of your project.”

“In the past, all these things about ‘we’re going out to go bid next year’ were all predicated on ... the hoops we still had to jump through, and those hadn’t been done yet,” he said. The letter received Monday is the proverbial final hoop.

“In my experience, this has been the absolute most difficult project to get to this stage,” Priester said. “Bar none. There’s a lot of factors that played into that: We had a lot of changing rules thrown at us, during this process.”

It was actually illegal to do some of the things private industry would have done to speed up the process of a similarly huge project: Each step had to be completed before the next one can be started: The city couldn’t begin purchasing right-of-way for the project until all of the environmental reviews were completed, for instance.

The city will begin soliciting construction bids on June 28 and will unseal the bids a month later. Construction is expected to begin on an underpass that unites both halves of Ranchero Road -- currently split in two by the BNSF railroad track -- about a month later. The project will take about 26 months to complete.

Even at the 11th hour, the project almost fell apart.

“If we hadn’t gotten this thing by the end of the month, we would have lost another $3.9 million,” said Priester.

The federal government had committed the money to the $27 million project, but the city had to be in the construction phase by June 30, or the funds would have evaporated.

Although Priester is sitting in the director’s chair when the project was finally approved, he’s quick to point out that it’s been a team effort all along, especially since the city committed to finding the funding and pushing hard in the project in 2002.

“Every department in this city was working on this in the past years,” he said, including planning, economic development, finance staff, engineering and public works staff, building and safety staff, city manager staff and “on it goes.”

“You do this type and scale of a project a handful of times in your career,” Priester said. “It took intestinal fortitude and will to get it done.”

Beau Yarbrough can be reached at 760-956-7108 or at beau@hesperiastar.com. Follow us on Facebook at Facebook.com/Hesperia.Star.


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