Breanna Reeves |
When Qianteh Looney-Baldridge’s 10-year-old son Bryan David Baldridge told her they needed to protest the construction of a new suspension bridge on McKinley Street in Corona, CA, she was surprised.
Looney-Baldridge was ordering food from a local fast food restaurant when she and her son realized there was a lot of construction taking place nearby. An employee at the restaurant explained that some of the businesses nearby would be impacted by the project.
Construction for the McKinley Street Grade Separation Project began this past summer with a goal of reducing traffic congestion, improving the safety for motorcyclists and pedestrians at the crossing and minimizing the impacts to the community and the BNSF railroad. According to the project plan, construction extends from the 91 Freeway interchange on the north side to Magnolia Avenue on the south side. The bridge is expected to be completed by the winter of 2023/2024.
The project has been a priority for the city for 15 years. After several years of evaluating the feasibility of the bridge, examining overpass and underpass options and assessing overcrossing alternatives, the city of Corona established an Ad-Hoc Committee in 2019. The committee included Caltrans, Riverside County, Riverside County Transportation Commission (RCTC) and Transportation Corridor Agency personnel who developed recommendations to minimize costs and impacts to the surrounding business and property owners.
According to an August 2019 Ad-Hoc Committee Update on the McKinley Street Grade Separation, the committee identified 14 business impacts and loss of visibility if the bridge contained six lanes as initially proposed. Committee members recommended an alternative four-lane bridge that would be more cost effective, preserve 14 businesses and improve visibility.
“The only two businesses impacted directly by the project were Denny’s and Outback Steakhouse, who closed their doors before the project. During our discussions, the business owners indicated they were going to close the businesses regardless of the project,” Josh Cosper, senior project manager, explained.
“The city paid both owners for the value of each business based on independent appraisals and negotiations with each owner. These businesses did not relocate. They closed permanently, and their owners chose not to look for new locations to re-establish their franchises.”
When Bryan first saw the construction, he was worried about the small business owners and their families.
“He comes from a family of business owners, so he understands from the children’s point of view, and this is our heart — people work very, very hard to be entrepreneurs and business [owners],” Looney-Baldridge explained. A business owner herself, Looney-Baldridge started the Bryan David’s Brothers Foundation which seeks to raise awareness about speech disorders that impact children, of which her own son experienced.
On Oct. 11, Baldridge was invited to speak with the mayor of Riverside and council members and discuss the McKinley Street Grade Separation Project. They directed him to speak with the council members from the city of Corona, who are spearheading the project.
“I was surprised because naturally he’s an introvert,” Looney-Baldridge explained. She asked her son if he wanted to recite his speech again in front of Corona council members. “He said yes and he did a wonderful job. I’m really proud of him.”
Baldridge met with Corona mayor Wes Speake and city council member Jacque Casillas, who are both members of the McKinley Street Grade Separation Advisory Council Committee. During the weekly city council meeting on Nov. 2, Baldridge led the room in the Pledge of Allegiance. Afterwards, he was awarded a certificate for expressing concern for the community by mayor Wes Speake.
“Bryan and his mom came to council offices last week and met with city council member Casillas and I. He had heard about the McKinley Grade Separation and had some concerns and questions about the businesses there and how we were going to work with them,” Speake said during the council meeting. “He sat down with us and listened to our side. I think we gave him some things to think about and work on, and he was very pleased to meet with both of us.”
During the interview with Black Voice News and the IE Voice, Baldridge was shy, but he was able to convey the most important part of his speech: “I think that small businesses should not be gone. I think they need them for their families.”