For nearly three years, the thousands of motorists who travel the San Diego Freeway have watched construction crews build the beginnings of a giant interchange that will connect the San Diego to the new Century Freeway.
Now work has begun on yet another project--a mile-long detour that, when completed 20 months from now, will divert drivers off the San Diego Freeway so the interchange can be finished.
The California Department of Transportation will build eight new traffic lanes--four in each direction--as well as many bridges, connector roads and on- and off-ramps next to the freeway between Century and El Segundo boulevards.
Once the detour is opened, the present freeway lanes will be closed so the five-level interchange that will connect the San Diego and Century freeways can be completed. The northbound and southbound detour lanes will encircle the interchange site.
Caltrans officials said the detour, which took engineers years to design, is one of the largest and most expensive in state history. The detour alone is estimated to cost $25 million, and the interchange at least $200 million.
They also say the project presents planners and construction crews with a Goliath-like challenge: Keeping traffic flowing smoothly along the heavily congested San Diego Freeway. Caltrans has vowed to keep disruptions for motorists to a minimum and to close no lanes during peak traffic periods.
"We are going to be moving traffic from the main freeway and onto the detour, and we are going to do it without creating any inconveniences to the public," said Tadesse Teferi, a Caltrans engineer working on the detour.
As part of that effort, Caltrans has informed major South Bay employers of changing traffic patterns that could affect their workers.
A spokesman for Hughes Aircraft Co. said the company, which lost four leased parking lots to freeway construction, has kept in close contact with Caltrans. "We are relatively confident in their predictions" that traffic can be kept flowing smoothly, the spokesman said. "But we are somewhat apprehensive because we know there are conditions they have no control over that could affect construction."
Nineteen different contracts have been awarded for work on the new freeway, which will be 17.3 miles long and stretch from Los Angeles International Airport east to the San Gabriel River Freeway in Norwalk. Expected to be completed by 1993, the freeway will carry 180,000 vehicles daily near its junction with the San Diego Freeway, according to traffic planners.
"It's a giant jigsaw puzzle," said Frank Weidler, chief of construction for the freeway. "The biggest thing is fitting the pieces together."
The interchange that will connect the San Diego and Century freeways is one of four along the new freeway's route. When completed, its five levels will arch upwards to the height of a seven-story building and have three tunnels, one of which will run under La Cienega Boulevard and the other two under the San Diego Freeway.
Few Problems Expected
Caltrans officials say few problems have occurred in keeping traffic flowing in the area, and few are expected while the detour is under construction and, later, in use for three or four years.
Although the San Diego is one of the busiest freeways in the Los Angeles area, Teferi said no lane closures on the freeway or detour route will be permitted during daylight hours. "We'll never take a lane during peak hours," he said.
Teferi said that the detour project itself will require five new bridges--two permanent ones over Lennox Boulevard and three temporary ones at or near Imperial Highway. A number of new connector roads and on- and off-ramps will be built, and modifications will be made to others. An estimated 70% of the project will be demolished once the regular freeway is reopened.
Despite all of the construction activity, Teferi said he does not expect motorists to see much of it. To keep the curious moving up and down the freeway, work crews will install plywood "gawker screens," some as high as eight feet.
"There will be no work during the daytime that is visible to freeway traffic," he said.