City officials broke ground Wednesday on a long-anticipated overhaul of the Artesia Boulevard corridor in North Long Beach, a project that seeks to increase safety for pedestrians and cyclists and also help to present a better first impression of the city.

Known as the “Great Boulevard” project, the city announced construction would soon begin on the project after finalizing the funding for the $36.2 million plan that will reimagine the 3.2-mile stretch of Artesia between Harbor Avenue and Downey Avenue by adding protected bike lanes, new landscaping, medians and new bulb-outs that will make crossing the street shorter and potentially safer for pedestrians.

Mayor Rex Richardson, who represented the North Long Beach City Council district before being elected to lead the city in November, said he remembered the corridor being called shameful by his predecessor, Councilmember Steve Neal, whom he replaced in 2014.

“I remember he said that Uptown should be a preview to Downtown,” Richardson said. “No matter what part of town you’re in, you should get a tease, be enticed to go deeper into Long Beach and see what else we have to offer.”

The project is not only expected to improve the aesthetics of the major North Long Beach corridor but also bring a number of safety improvements following a year in which 45 people died in traffic collisions.

Paul Van Dyk, the city’s traffic engineer, said his favorite element of the project is the fully protected intersection that is going to be installed at the intersection of Artesia and Orange Avenue.

Van Dyk said the new intersection will require slower turns by vehicles and provide shorter crossing distances for pedestrians as well as put cyclists in a more visible portion of the road.

While the green bollards that currently exist on the street to separate bike lanes from traffic will be coming down, they will be replaced by permanent curbs, Van Dyk said. Other minor streets will also be closed off to left-hand turns, making it safer for people to walk in the area, he said.

The green dividers will be coming down on Artesia Boulevard for the enhancement project in Long Beach. Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2023. Photo by Thomas R. Cordova.

“It’s a great indicator of what’s to come,” Van Dyk said of the city’s attempt to take a people-first approach to transportation in future projects.

Community leaders were energized by the groundbreaking ceremony not only because of the transformative changes it’s expected to bring but because of the long road it took to get here. The project has been in various stages of planning for the past eight years and was postponed in 2021 after the scope of the project became too big for the available funding.

Renette Mazza, a former resident of the Hamilton Neighborhood, has since moved to Orange County but said she took the day off from work to be at the ceremony.

“Amazing,” Mazza said. “This is eight years of advocacy, and this shows how everyone can come together and work to get things done.”

A groundbreaking ceremony for the Artesia Boulevard enhancement project was held in Long Beach Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2023. Photo by Thomas R. Cordova.

Dan Pressburg, president of the Deforest Park Neighborhood Association, said this was the biggest thing to happen to the area since the construction of the 91 Freeway. He noted that the focus has consistently been on Downtown, but he said he’s optimistic that with his former council member now serving as mayor, along with his fellow neighborhood leader now on the City Council, there could be more to come.

“This is something that’s unprecedented, and it’s time, after 40 years of me being here, for them to invest in the corridor,” Pressburg said.

The project is expected to take about 180 working days to be completed, according to the Public Works Department, but the timetable was pushed back a little by the recent rains. The department had previously hoped to start construction at the end of 2022 with a goal of being done by the end of 2023, and Joy Contreras, a spokesperson for the department, said that’s still the goal.

While the project could be under construction for the rest of 2023, only one side of Artesia is expected to be closed at a time, so traffic on the whole street isn’t affected. Long Beach Transit issued a notice to riders earlier this week that there would be detours through February 2024 for its 51, 61 and 141 routes.

The city is planning to complete similar street redesigns for Anaheim Street and Studebaker Road in the future.

Studebaker Road project could bring big changes to East Long Beach in 2023

Traffic deaths have spiked in recent years, with 45 in 2022

Jason Ruiz covers City Hall and politics for the Long Beach Post. Reach him at [email protected] or @JasonRuiz_LB on Twitter.