Robyn Rodriguez sees the white construction barriers, the temporary lane markings and the black and orange signs in place on her daily commute through the tangled mess where I-880 meets I-280 and has this to say:
After more than a decade of scrambling for scarce funds, the area often voted the South Bay's biggest traffic headache is about to get a $62.1 million makeover.
Officials will gather Friday for a groundbreaking ceremony, and soon crews will begin work on the Stevens Creek Boulevard overpass and a new entrance into Valley Fair from 880. By next summer, a new flyover ramp linking north 280 with north 880 will be going up.
And when work wraps up in 2015 on the 48-year-old interchange, hopefully the long lines of traffic every day of the week at all hours of the day will finally ease.
"This has been the sore point in this valley for a long, long time," said John Ristow, who oversees highway planning for the Valley Transportation Authority. "We've fixed a lot of other stuff, but this is a big one."
The problems: Man, where to begin?
Exit lanes that are too narrow. Offramps that share lanes with onramps. Mystifying traffic patterns. Thousands of motorists fighting for concrete space as they try to shop at Valley Fair and Santana Row.
While not all problems will be resolved, there are solutions for many of them.
Southbound 880 will get a second lane to exit onto Stevens Creek, and then the offramp
Better yet: The new design will make it possible to exit from south 880 directly onto Monroe Street and into the Valley Fair parking lot without having to battle traffic on Stevens Creek.
Northbound traffic from Highway 17 bound for Stevens Creek will no longer have to weave through traffic from 280 headed to north 880, as a big flyover ramp will take vehicles from north 280 to north 880 over traffic below.
Bicycle lanes and sidewalks will be added on Stevens Creek.
Lanes on north 280 will also be realigned so cars in the far right lane will exit toward Oakland instead of Los Gatos -- a much more logical layout than what's there now.
And people living in the area will get sound walls intended to muzzle the noise from the thousands of cars that battle their way through here.
Supervisor and VTA chair Ken Yeager years ago dubbed this "the nightmare before Christmas" -- a reference to the horrendous tie-ups during the holiday shopping season.
Only now every day seems like Christmas. November, April or August, midweek or the weekend, traffic grinds to a creeping halt.
One of the biggest safety concerns is on north 280 before 880, where offramp backups can extend a mile onto the freeway and where Caltrans often posts electronic warning signs during the busiest shopping periods in an attempt to warn drivers of traffic stopped ahead.
"Everybody's heart stops a little bit when you're driving the speed limit on 280 north, everything comes to a halt and everyone slams on their brakes before 880," Yeager said. "I don't know why it was ever designed that way."
The reconstruction is a scaled-back version of what had been planned. There will be no exit from north 280 onto Winchester Boulevard to allow for a back way into Santana Row, as VTA wanted, nor will there be a second lane for traffic going south on 880 to reach north 280.
And more than two years of construction will certainly test many souls.
"I dread the increase of the congestion and noise we'll see during the construction," said Al Woodward, who has lived off Monroe Street between Stevens Creek and 280 since 1974. "I'll live with it to get any improvement down the road."
Total: $62.1 million
State bonds: $39.2 million
Federal funds: $19 million
Local funds: $2.9 million
Source: Valley Transportation Authority
Now: Widening I-880/Stevens Creek through next summer
Next spring: Build flyover ramp from northbound I-280 to northbound I-880 through summer 2014
Completion: Early 2015