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Moorpark Choking on Freeway Exodus : Caltrans Says Relief Is 5 Years Away for City in the Middle

December 17, 1987|DENISE HAMILTON | Times Staff Writer

Driving from Simi Valley to Thousand Oaks during rush hour can be aggravating enough, but try standing for hours on a street corner in Moorpark, which lies halfway between.

"It's dangerous . . . Those commuters are only worried about getting to work," mutters Faye Beaver, a Moorpark crossing-guard supervisor. As she speaks, a small, slate-blue car hurtles through the school crosswalk at Moorpark Road near Roberts Avenue at about 60 m.p.h.

The Simi Valley and Moorpark-Thousand Oaks freeways end in Moorpark, dumping fast-moving traffic from throughout Ventura County onto residential roads that double as state highways. As Moorpark's population swells--the number of people in the area has grown 230% since 1980--its roads are choked by increasing numbers of 18-wheelers, gasoline tankers and harried commuters.

Most drivers are headed elsewhere and many are speeding.

While salvation isn't imminent, it is on the drawing boards--about five years and several government approvals away.

Plans Move Forward

The California Department of Transportation says plans to connect California 23 (the Thousand Oaks-Moorpark Freeway) and California 118 (the Simi Valley Freeway) in Moorpark are moving forward and that state and federal approval for the proposed route is expected by spring.

Once that happens, Caltrans can proceed with engineering plans and purchase additional right of way. The state agency already owns 70% of the needed land. Construction is to begin in 1990 and end in 1993, and the freeway will run along Los Angeles Avenue about 200 feet from the nearest homes, said Jack Hallin, Caltrans chief of project development for Ventura County.

The 2.2 mile, $40 million freeway connector is one of the biggest public works projects under way in Ventura County, officials say.

It is also sorely needed and long overdue, according to elected officials, area residents and planners.

Traffic accidents on the Moorpark surface streets that serve as de facto highways are almost double the state average, according to Caltrans. About one-fifth of the vehicles are heavy and medium-size trucks, and city planners estimate that 80% of the traffic barrels through Moorpark on the way to points elsewhere.

"We desperately need the connection," says Norm Blanchard, executive director of the Ventura County Assn. of Governments.

Hallin agrees. "Something has to be done to get the traffic off . . . the avenues," the Caltrans official said. "Moorpark is still growing and will continue to grow. There has to be some relief."

The problem occurs because California 23, which heads north from Thousand Oaks at U.S. 101, ends abruptly in southern Moorpark and becomes New Los Angeles Avenue. At the same time, California 118, which runs through Simi Valley, grinds to a halt at College View Avenue in eastern Moorpark and becomes Los Angeles Avenue.

This forces through traffic to wend its way for more than three miles through commercial and residential areas along Los Angeles Avenue, New Los Angeles Avenue, Moorpark Road and Moorpark Avenue. At times, those roads are winding, two-lane paths.

During rush hour, this creates "astronomical congestion," according to Tricia Price, Ventura County's district manager for Commuter Computer, which matches up passengers with car pools.

Fantastic Traffic Jams

"The delays are almost intolerable. It can be about a half-hour delay for a mile to two-mile stretch. Five years ago it took five minutes," Price said.

During peak hours, it sometimes seems that only the black hawks circling in the Moorpark sky travel unencumbered. Before rush hour, vehicles regularly whiz along curving agricultural roads at 60 m.p.h, twice the speed limit.

Moorpark city planners agree that traffic is their top problem, and county leaders call the proposed linkup their top highway priority. Moorpark has experienced phenomenal growth since it incorporated in 1983, jumping from 10,000 to 20,000 residents today. By the year 2000, the population is expected to double again.

At the same time, nearby cities like Simi Valley and Thousand Oaks also are growing rapidly, which puts pressure on local thoroughfares and turns freeways into parking lots twice a day. Many feel that construction of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library near the Tierra Rejada exit of California 23 will only exacerbate those problems.

To compound matters, Moorpark is still evolving from an agricultural area into a suburb. Big trucks travel the little roads hauling fertilizer and yellow farm tractors. Those stuck in highway traffic can view undulating emerald hills and grazing cows.

Many of the city's predominantly white, middle-class homeowners moved here to get away from urban angst. Now, they find it springing up all around them.

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