Rumbling trains passed below as hundreds atop the Green Tree Bridge celebrated the opening of the nearly 600-foot cement marvel, which spans the BNSF railroad tracks in Victorville.
Residents joined city, local and regional leaders to celebrate the completion of the Green Tree Extension Project and Bridge, something Mayor Debra Jones called a partnership between agencies, which personifies a “collaboration spirit.”
Skanska, Parsons, and Dokken Engineering worked to extend Green Tree Boulevard 1.5 miles east from Hesperia Road over the tracks to Ridgecrest Road near Spring Valley Lake and Mojave Narrows Regional Park.
The Green Tree project creates another east/west corridor, which connects Victorville to Apple Valley’s Yucca Loma Bridge over the Mojave River.
The nearly $47 million project also benefits the Victor Valley by providing a much-needed travel alternative to Bear Valley Road and Highway 18, city leaders said.
The celebration included a classic car show, a presentation of the “Skanska’s Choice” car show award, a DJ, food trucks, and a fun walk on the bridge before it opened to traffic.
Standing next to his 1966 Chevelle Ultra Sport, Apple Valley resident Wendell Ansnes told the Daily Press that the opening of the bridge means he’ll be able to “avoid Bear Valley Road.”
“Bear Valley Road used to be a nice little drive, but it’s gotten way too congested,” Ansnes, 69, said. “They did a great job on this bridge and expanding Green Tree Boulevard.”
An American flag, attached to a Victorville Fire Department ladder, danced in the breeze over the crowd who stayed cool by making multiple visits to the city's hydration station.
As temperatures neared 90 degrees, air-conditioned Victor Valley Transit Authority shuttle buses transported guests from the parking area near Hesperia Road to the event location.
San Bernardino County sheriff's deputies were on both ends of the new roadway to watch over visitors who walked and rode bikes to and from the celebration.
While many lauded the completion of the extension project, several wondered why the roadway and bridge was only built as one lane in each direction.
Fulfilling ‘the dream’
Apple Valley Mayor Scott Nassif told the crowd that the roars of multiple locomotives passing by could substitute for a traditional flyover.
Nassif said nearly six years ago to the day, Apple Valley officials opened the Yucca Loma Bridge, with anticipation of Victorville constructing the Green Tree Bridge.
With a panoramic view of Victorville and Apple Valley behind him, Nassif said the new bridge will better forge both municipalities.
The county's transportation authority President Art Bishop, who also serves on the Apple Valley Town Council, recognized former Victorville Mayor Terry Caldwell, who served on the dais for eight terms and is considered by many as “Victorville's architect.”
Bishop looked back nearly 50 years and called the new bridge a “generational thing,” with Cauldwell and former city leaders working to “fulfill the dream” of its construction.
Also in attendance was former Hesperia Mayor Eric Schmitt, who cut the ribbon on the $60 million Ranchero Road Interchange project at Interstate 15 in Feb. 2015.
He was also present for the ribbon cutting of the Ranchero Road undercrossing in June 2013.
“Ultimately, this is the culmination of years worth of effort. It's also the last major connecting piece that brings our communities together,” Schmidt said. “I applaud the work of Victorville, Apple Valley, and the many agencies who were instrumental in the completion of this project.”
'Get it done'
Estimated construction costs for the project included the San Bernardino County Transportation Authority contributing $22.7 million, Victorville $15 million, Apple Valley $4 million, and the county of San Bernardino $900,000.
To pay its portion, Victorville contributed $6.6 million in cash. The city is financing the remaining amount through a loan agreement with the county's transportation authority that will be paid off utilizing future road development impact fees.
A federal earmark of $4.2 million initially designated for the High Desert Corridor was authorized to help build the Green Tree Extension.
“This project was envisioned decades ago and it took much effort from the city and several agencies to get it done,” said Ryan McEachron, former Victorville councilman.
“When I left the council, I was happy to see that staff and several councils kept the project moving forward,” said McEachron, who now serves on the county of San Bernardino Board of Education. “The effects of the completion of the bridge will be huge as it will alleviate traffic on other roadways and make for easier travel between Apple Valley and Victorville.”
Decades in the making
First envisioned in the 1970s, the project also includes a new traffic signal at Green Tree Boulevard and Ridgecrest Road.
Additionally, the widening of Ridgecrest Road to four lanes, along with the widening of Green Tree Boulevard and Hesperia Road, and new turn lanes
Bike lanes were installed throughout the length of the project creating a more extensive bike lane loop nearly 7 miles long that connects the Mojave Riverwalk to Hesperia Road and Seventh Street.
The project, though, wasn't without its troubles.
In March 2021, a construction worker was killed and three others injured after a large SUV ran into them on Hesperia Road south of Green Tree Boulevard.
Sheriff's spokesperson Mara Rodriguez at the time said four construction workers were struck by a Chevrolet Suburban. One worker was pronounced dead at the scene.
Isaac Lopez, 45, a husband and father of two daughters, was identified as the man who died at the scene. The other workers were taken to hospitals, with one being airlifted.
The injured were treated and released after suffering various injuries, according to Rick Monge, a vice president with James McMinn Inc., the company that employed Lopez and the three other workers.
In June 2022, officials began investigating the death of a second constructor worker, Robert Sierra Jr., 52, of Victorville,at the project site near Ridgecrest and Yates roads near Spring Valley Lake.
It’s believed that a piece of heavy construction equipment, possibly an excavator, fell on a semi-truck, which trapped Sierra inside.
Firefighters arrived at the scene and removed Sierra, who later died.
While no foul play was suggested, prosecutors said last summer they would look into the death.
Daily Press reporter Rene Ray De La Cruz may be reached at 760-951-6227 or RDeLaCruz@VVDailyPress.com. Follow him on Twitter @DP_ReneDeLaCruz
This article originally appeared on Victorville Daily Press: Party on the bridge: Green Tree Extension Project completed