Highway Interchange at Former March AFB Honors Region’s Historical Military Role

The Inland Empire region of Southern California lacked a significant tribute to the role played by the military over the past century, so when officials at the March Joint Powers Authority (JPA) began thinking about the design for a new highway interchange, they saw an opportunity to highlight the site’s military past.

The authority decided to pursue a design for the $65 million I-215/Van Buren Overcrossing project that would meet the region’s current and future needs while acknowledging the Air Force’s historic and continuing presence across Southern California.

The JPA is responsible for redeveloping the portion of March Air Force Base which was realigned in 1996. Much of the installation continues to operate as March Air Reserve Base.

The recently completed freeway interchange, which is located within the former March AFB, was largely funded through the efforts of the JPA. The interchange design — which was directed by a diverse group of community stakeholders — emphasizes the importance of March ARB, honors the sacrifices made by veterans buried at Riverside National Cemetery and reflects the cultural and historical influence of the artifacts and displays at March Field Air Museum.

Aesthetic features include aircraft silhouettes on the overcrossing safety railing of historic and current aircraft of the JN-4 Jenny, B-17 Flying Fortress, F-16 Fighting Falcon, B-52-Stratofortress, C-17 Globemaster III and KC-135 Stratotanker, all of which have the base has hosted. The northbound loop ramp displays granite, cobble and integral colored concrete F-16 jet forms to represent the F-16 detachment that is on alert 24 hours a day at March ARB; they are visible both from the air and to northbound vehicles on I-215. Five-star insignias on the bridge abutments serve as memorials to Hap Arnold, who served as commander of March Field from 1931 to 1936. Historic aviators’ wings built into the east retaining wall acknowledge the base’s flying mission and personnel. Unit insignia under the bridge include those for the major commands at March Field — Strategic Air Command, Tactical Air Command and Air Force Reserve Command.

The placement of these military elements in a high-profile public transportation improvement project emphasizes the base’s strong and enduring presence in the area and reminds travelers of the collaborative relationship the U.S. Army Air Corps/Air Force shared with the surrounding community since base operations began in 1917. They serve as a reminder to all who see them that the reserve base’s continued presence and activities are key to the economic well-being of Riverside County and the adjacent cities of Riverside, Moreno Valley and Perris.

The interchange project is both a functional and artistic public memorial to the vital historic contributions personnel at March AFB and March Field have made to the nation’s defense over the years, and to the ongoing national security role March ARB will play into the future. The project earned the March JPA ADC’s Base Redevelopment Excellence Award.

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