To increase capacity on Pacific Coast Highway, Caltrans is studying a short-term plan to create a special morning rush-hour lane on the southbound shoulder of the highway, which would require some beachfront residents to find new places to park their cars for two or three hours every weekday.
The shoulder lane would probably carry traffic from 6 or 6:30 a.m. until 8 or 9 a.m., and would revert to a parking strip for the rest of the day.
"It would be like city streets that have no parking on that side for certain times of the morning," said Pat Perovich, a state Department of Transportation engineer.
Caltrans says the shoulder lane is considered only a temporary way to relieve the morning traffic snarl, and might be used until a permanent expansion of the highway is undertaken, probably sometime after the year 2000. The shoulder lane could be constructed in as little as two years if approved by Caltrans and the California Coastal Commission.
More immediate relief will come this year, when Caltrans begins work on computerizing traffic signals between John Tyler Drive and Carbon Canyon Road.
As part of the project, Caltrans plans to add a traffic signal at Carbon Canyon and install two new signals along the business district strip near Malibu Pier.
"Once the signals are linked together, they will stay green unless a car pulls into a left-turn pocket," Perovich said. "Traffic will move more steadily through that area, and it will be easier and safer for people to make a left turn in and out of the business district."
The proposed multimillion-dollar expansion of PCH might include construction of a reversible lane in the center of the highway alongside the left-turn lanes.
"Given what's going to happen to traffic out there in the coming years, a reversible lane is a good concept and it makes sense," Perovich said.
"Sign bridges will have to go up over PCH that indicate when the lane is reversed--green says you can use it, red says the traffic is coming from the other way."
Caltrans is also looking into construction of "flyovers," or overpasses, at Topanga Canyon, Sunset Boulevard and the California Incline that could move traffic from the side roads onto PCH without stopping cars at a signal. Traffic using the overpasses would merge into the slow lanes.
However, Perovich said several portions of the highway cannot be widened to accommodate a reversible lane or flyover, and Caltrans officials may have to consider condemning buildings or land in a few areas.
Widening the highway would create the biggest problems in two spots.
In a section between Las Flores Canyon Road and Topanga Canyon Boulevard, the county has installed water mains just one foot beneath the shoulder because they break regularly due to land movement and must be easy for repair crews to reach. The pipes could not bear the weight of traffic and would have to be buried deeper or moved.
The other problem area is a section below Sunset Boulevard next to the Bel-Air Bay Club. A slide area prevents Caltrans from expanding the road on the inland side, and the club itself is in the way of any expansion on the other side.
In that area, Perovich said, "we're stuck with two lanes for now." One solution might be to build a low, bridge-like crossing over the toe of the landslide, which has pushed the highway toward the ocean. The toe of the slide cannot be removed or disturbed because of the risk of setting off further land movement in the bluff above, she said.