For commuters on the heavily congested Ventura Freeway, some news originating from Eureka, Calif., Thursday provided a glimmer of hope for relief.
The state Transportation Commission, faced with a $650-million shortfall in federal highway financing over the next five years, originally had been expected to postpone three lane-widening projects for the Ventura Freeway in the San Fernando Valley. But, at its meeting in Eureka, the commission approved a statewide "hit list" that spared the Valley projects, worth a total of $10.4 million.
The state's intention to postpone the projects was announced this summer and was immediately greeted by loud protests from the Valley-area political delegation and the Ventura Freeway Improvement Coalition in Woodland Hills. The coalition represents most of the chambers of commerce, trade organizations and major employers.
Projects Would Add New Lane
The Valley projects, scheduled to begin in 1987, would add a new lane eastbound from Woodland Hills to Universal City and an extra lane westbound from Universal City to Sherman Oaks. The new lanes would be created by using freeway shoulders and restripping existing lanes.
Six Ventura Freeway projects now in the state's five-year plan will eventually add an extra lane on each side of the freeway from North Hollywood to Calabasas. The last of these scheduled projects, which will increase the capacity of the freeway by 20%, should be started in 1988 or 1989.
In August, Los Angeles City Councilwoman Joy Picus, who represents parts of the Valley, state Sen. Ed Davis (R-Valencia) and Assemblyman Richard Katz (D-Sepulveda), chairman of the Assembly Transportation Committee, appeared before the commission to ask that the projects be reinstated.
Their appearance was followed up by a letter written by Sen. Gary Hart (D-Santa Barbara), who also represents Woodland Hills, and co-signed by the entire Valley-area state delegation.
Because of the lobbying effort, Caltrans re-examined the criteria it used to postpone the three projects. They are designed to alleviate some of the bumper-to-bumper traffic jams that are a daily phenomenon on what Caltrans says is the busiest freeway in California. On the average day, 267,000 vehicles crawl along the Ventura Freeway in the Valley.
The Ventura Freeway projects were originally scratched because improvements to existing freeways and construction of freeways with sizable federal subsidies, such as the Century Freeway, were considered bigger priorities, said Caltrans spokeswoman Felicia Archer.
Katz said Thursday's action "shows a recognition by the Transportation Commission about just how serious the situation is on the Ventura Freeway . . . . Deferring these projects did not make sense."
Members of the Woodland Hills group also were happy, although one, Ron Palmer, observed, "There is an axiom of highway planning. Once you add an additional lane . . . it fills up quickly."