When work crews shut down a northbound lane of busy McKinley Street in Corona July 11, sales plummeted 50% at Steven Chor’s donut shop.
Business has rebounded a little in the days since at the Donut Star, Chor said, but it is still down 30% from what it was before Corona formally launched a $120 million-plus project to lift McKinley over railroad tracks that cross south of the 91 Freeway.
“It’s not like they don’t like my donuts, but they don’t like the traffic,” he said in an interview Friday, July 15.
Crews put in place concrete barriers and barricades that squeeze northbound traffic into one lane from just south of Magnolia Avenue to north of Sampson Avenue. That has triggered backups, blocked an entrance into the shopping center that serves the donut shop and made it challenging for Chor’s early-morning commuter customers to reach the freeway en route to Los Angeles or Orange County.
“We understand that it is going to be a struggle for folks during construction,” Corona Mayor Wes Speake said, saying the city is working to ease the impact of closures.
City spokesperson Cindy Solis said in an email that construction will take place during the day and at night, although usually during off-peak hours, and normally Monday through Friday.
Some weekend work will be required, she said, and advance notice will be given about that. Solis wrote that at least one 55-hour, full-weekend closure will be needed in 2023, along McKinley between Estelle Street and Sampson Avenue, to install several lifts and pour lightweight cellular concrete.
Speake said the project is badly needed to address a choke point along Corona’s busiest city street, and the drive through the city’s easternmost section should improve when the overpass is completed in late 2023 or early 2024.
Solis said the area of McKinley north of Sampson Avenue carries about 39,400 vehicles a day on average.
The city has estimated 88 trains pass through the area daily, creating delays for waiting cars totaling 2 hours and 35 minutes. By 2035, the number of trains is forecast to reach 137, potentially increasing cumulative daily wait times to 4 hours, 20 minutes
By separating cars and trains, the four-lane bridge over the tracks is expected to eliminate those delays.
Solis wrote that the city is looking to eliminate the down time motorists experience at the existing ground-level crossing, improve safety for both walkers and people in vehicles who cross there and boost response times for emergency vehicles held up by trains. At the same time, Solis emphasized the bridge is not intended to boost McKinley’s vehicle-carrying capacity.
The span will be about 300 feet long and made of steel, Solis wrote. She said the structure will be fabricated on the site of the former Outback and Denny’s restaurants and set in place sometime in early 2023.
City officials are encouraging residents to sign up for construction updates by texting MCKINLEY to 844-518-1409, which will enable them to receive project alerts. Updates also are provided at www.McKinleyUpdates.com.
As for the project cost, Solis said it is expected to total between $120 million and $128.5 million.
The biggest funding piece is an $84.5 million grant Corona received from the state in 2017, in a controversial legislative package that raised the state gas tax to boost highway repairs.
As costs have increased, Corona has had to cobble together additional cash from other sources. Solis wrote that the city will use gas tax money, development fees, contributions from BNSF Railway, and local, regional and state transportation dollars.
Speake said that, while the price tag has increased well beyond the state grant, “the city could never have afforded to build this project without it.”
Local business owners say they understand the need to separate train and car traffic. But they worry the project will put them out of business — or at least significantly reduce their livelihoods, during construction and after the new bridge is in place.
Chor, the donut shop owner, is in his summer slow season. But he worries what may happen in fall and winter, when business typically is brisk because kids are back in school and it’s cooler. In the hot climate of the Inland Empire, he said, people are more inclined to buy hot coffee when the temperature backs off, and coffee and donut purchases tend to go together. McKinley construction headaches could severely undercut that seasonal bump up, he said.
Then there is the concern, he said, that, once up, the towering bridge may permanently eclipse his shop’s visibility from the street.
“We will no longer be in a prime location,” Chor said.
Steve Ho, owner of nearby Cali Nails & Spa, said business there is down 20% to 30%. Much of the area in front of the spa is a construction zone.
“There is a parking lot in the back, but a lot of people don’t know about it,” he said.
On Thursday, July 14, he said, a new customer made an appointment — then never showed, presumably because of the difficulty navigating the construction area and finding parking.
“Right now we are just surviving on our regular customers,” Ho said.
It is difficult to attract new clients, he said. “They’re not seeing us, and they’re not coming in.”
Ho also worries the spa’s visibility will be blocked by the bridge.
Samuel Huerta, owner of the Mariscolandia restaurant down the street, hasn’t seen a big drop off in customers — yet. Still, he said he worries some customers will avoid driving through the area and that he will begin to lose business, especially at midday when people can’t afford long delays when they take their lunch breaks.
With one northbound lane blocked for construction, he said, “now the real impact is going to begin.”
“It’s going to be a big inconvenience,” Huerta said. “But I know it’s something that needs to be done.”
For construction information, updates
Text MCKINLEY to 844-518-1409 to receive alerts