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And It's Getting Worse : More Cars Slowing Travel on Freeways

April 18, 1985|JUDITH HAMILTON | Times Staff Writer

Here is bad news for motorists: The San Gabriel Valley's freeways are becoming more congested.

And here is worse news: The freeways, particularly the east-west San Bernardino, Foothill and Pomona routes, will become even more congested before improvements can be made to help clear the rush-hour clogging.

But the worst news of all is for those who travel the San Bernardino Freeway (Interstate 10). Caltrans ranks the freeway, which reached capacity 10 years ago, as the most congested in the valley.

"It's really too many cars," said Marshall Young, Caltrans senior transportation engineer who oversees operations, improvements and safety in much of the San Gabriel Valley. "The demand for the (San Bernardino) freeway is really too much for the capacity of the freeway at commuting hours."

Numbers Increasing

Furthermore, Caltrans officials say that the number of vehicles using the valley's freeway system has increased an average of about 5% a year over the past five years.

In an effort to deal with these swelling numbers, Young said, Caltrans plans to spend more than $10 million over the next five years to add lanes in a number of valley trouble spots. But Young said some bottlenecks cannot be improved without reducing peak-time use.

He said it is impossible, for example, to expand the westbound lanes of the San Bernardino Freeway because of design characteristics. Portions of the freeway are more than 30 years old, Young said. He said sound barriers along the freeway also prevent lane expansion at some points.

Young said that the more recently constructed Foothill Freeway (Interstate 210) carries more vehicles than the San Bernardino, handling 175,000 vehicles daily at Lake Avenue in Pasadena. The San Bernardino, at its worst point--Atlantic Boulevard in the Monterey Park area--carries about 167,000 vehicles a day.

Freeway Size a Factor

But Young said that congestion is related not only to high numbers of vehicles on the road, but also to the size of the freeway. At Lake Avenue on the Foothill Freeway, there are 10 lanes to handle traffic, he said, while on the San Bernardino, there are only eight regular lanes, plus two bus lanes.

The Pomona (California 60) and San Gabriel River (Interstate 605) freeways also have congestion points, said Young. On the Pomona Freeway, near the San Gabriel River Freeway, Caltrans estimates that 158,000 vehicles a day swarm through the interchange. On the 605, in the area between Whittier Boulevard and Rose Hills Road, the typical daily count is 139,000 vehicles.

Growth to the east and the south--in the cities of Ontario, San Dimas, La Verne and Rancho Cucamonga, as well as in Riverside and Orange counties--has added to the glut of traffic, Young said. Commuters trying to make their way to downtown Los Angeles every day, he said, can expect stop-and-go traffic to become worse in the years ahead.

Congestion is usually less in the afternoon, Young said, because many people stay late at work. Caltrans defines freeway congestion as traffic slowed to 35 miles per hour or less.

Busiest Sections

Young said the busiest area on the Foothill Freeway in the morning rush hour period--6 to 9 a.m.--is the section between Azusa Avenue and Rosemead Boulevard, while the most congested part of the Pomona Freeway is between Azusa Avenue and the 605 Freeway.

Morning congestion on the San Bernardino Freeway begins around Puente Avenue in West Covina and continues to Atlantic Boulevard, Young said. During the afternoon peak hours--4 to 6--cars are often backed up from the Long Beach Freeway to Atlantic Boulevard and from Rosemead Boulevard to the 605 Freeway.

Young said afternoon congestion on the Foothill Freeway centers on the Pasadena and Arcadia area, while on the Pomona Freeway, traffic slows around the San Bernardino County line. Commuters on the 605 Freeway usually experience a traffic tangle around Whittier and Valley boulevards, he said. Young added that the Orange and Pasadena freeways have light congestion compared to other San Gabriel Valley freeways.

A high point amid the traffic mess on the valley's freeways, said Young, is the El Monte Busway on the San Bernardino Freeway, which runs along Interstate 10 from El Monte to just east of downtown Los Angeles. The bus lane is also used by car pools of three or more people.

Busway a Prototype

"The busway is a prototype for the United States, really," Young said. "It's one of the first."

Caltrans community relations representative Felicia Archer said that during peak hours, the busway, which opened in 1974, carries 2 1/2 times as many people as an adjacent lane. Caltrans' 1984 figures show that during rush hour, 6,500 people use the bus lane. An average of 10,350 people--an average of just over 2,587 per lane--use the other four lanes in one direction, Archer said.

"It's really a one-of-a-kind success story in Los Angeles," said Archer. "Commuter lanes are something that hold a lot of hope for the region, but we've still got a long way to go."

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