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No Smooth Path Found to Carefree Commuting

Second of two parts.

December 29, 1985|GEORGE STEIN | Times Staff Writer

Despite the obstacles, officials throughout the South Bay are attempting--some steadily, some fitfully--to come to grips with the traffic jams that are coming within the next two years.

The overall prediction is for stop-and-crawl traffic for hours each day on the South Bay's freeways, rush-hour grid lock at key intersections and overloaded residential streets.

Those trying to do something about traffic face a formidable series of hurdles:

- The hectic pace of development that is causing the upsurge is projected to continue as municipal governments--with Proposition 13's property tax cuts in mind--welcome tax-producing development, and industry, shoppers, homeowners and apartment dwellers flock to the convenient location, relatively clean air and suburban environment of the South Bay.

- Raising the gasoline tax to pay for transportation improvements remains politically impractical, according to state transportation analysts.

- California ranks 40th among all states in combined state and federal gasoline taxes and three years ago was ranked 49th in per-capita spending on highways.

- What state money is available for roads is buying less despite increases in travel.

Increased fuel efficiency, inflation in construction costs, the expense of mitigating environmental impacts and relocation costs are eroding purchasing power, according to Caltrans. The state transportation agency says this caused a shortfall of $160 million for new projects programmed through 1990, and another account, including funding for safety and rehabilitation projects, faces a shortfall of $292 million.

- The bulk of the state money for roads in Los Angeles County goes to match federal dollars to pay for the Century Freeway and a transit way on the Harbor Freeway. Together, the two projects will absorb four of five state transportation dollars spent in the county through 1995. Officials have had to put projects not eligible for federal funding on the back burner for fear of losing federal money that went unmatched.

- The Century Freeway is likely to be the last new freeway in Los Angeles County. Only an extension, the northern end of the Long Beach Freeway into Pasadena, is planned after the Century is built.

- In some cities, municipal interests and rivalries fracture attempts at regional cooperation.

- Efforts to put more people in fewer vehicles--vans, buses, trams, trains--are predicted to have minimal effect, at least in the short run. These endeavors are absorbing most of the additional local transportation funding generated by the half-cent Proposition A sales tax.

- The average number of people per car is going down in Los Angeles County, not up.

- Governmental agencies with responsibility for transportation have little power over land use.

Still, some efforts may bear fruit.

They range from megaprojects like the $1.6-billion Century Freeway to more humble street widenings, traffic-light synchronization and left-turn lanes.

From Airport to Norwalk

The Century Freeway, which will stretch 17 miles from Los Angeles International Airport to Norwalk, is expected to relieve east-west congestion somewhat.

But a study performed by the Southern California Assn. of Governments (SCAG) predicts that it will be congested from the day it opens in 1993. Cars will be crawling at less than 20 m.p.h. more than an hour a day in rush-hour traffic, according to the study.

Also designed to relieve congestion will be a $500-million bus and car-pool lane on the Harbor Freeway that is intended to make life easier for commuters to and from downtown Los Angeles when it opens, also in 1993.

The newest idea is the program championed by Los Angeles City Council President Pat Russell. It attempts to tie together the horns of the development-traffic dilemma by using the local government power of land-use determination to bolster transportation funding.

Something New

This is a reversal for Southern California where, historically, it has been transportation, starting with the rail system and continuing with the freeway system, that has spurred development

Russell's ordinance, passed Sept. 20, affects the area near Los Angeles International Airport called the Coastal Transportation Corridor.

The corridor, which covers part of an area scrutinized by SCAG in a 1984 report, is the site of intense commercial, industrial and residential development.

According to the ordinance, new approaches must be devised to finance transportation improvements "or future development restricted . . . (to) prevent area-wide congestion."

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