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Commission OKs 2 Car-Pool Lanes for 405 Freeway

December 24, 1987|KATHERINE DYAR | Times Staff Writer

With little fanfare and none of the controversy that surrounded a similar proposal in the San Fernando Valley, transportation officials have recommended that new lanes added to the San Diego Freeway in the South Bay area be set aside for car pools.

A lane for vehicles carrying more than one person would be added to each side of a 26-mile stretch of the freeway between the Marina Freeway and the Orange County line, the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission decided with only one dissenting vote.

The lanes for vehicles carrying more than one person must receive approval from the California Department of Transportation and funding from the California Transportation Commission. A Caltrans spokesman said the agency will probably support the local recommendation.

Cost Effective

The recommendation came after the 11 commissioners reviewed studies of traffic flow on the San Diego Freeway--Interstate 405--and the success of the car-pool lanes on the Artesia Freeway (California 91) and in Orange County, said Jacki Bacharach, a commission member and Rancho Palos Verdes councilwoman.

"The studies show that a car-pool lane is the most cost-effective means of expanding the freeway," Bacharach said.

She noted that the South Coast Air Quality Management District recently approved new rules aimed at increasing ride-sharing, and said, "The climate is favorable to this with the new standards, which have really helped reinforce where we were going with our policies."

A Caltrans spokesman predicted that after six months, the new car-pool lanes would be used by 3,000 vehicles hourly during peak morning and evening traffic.

Withdrew Idea

A single eastbound car-pool lane was planned by Caltrans for the widening of the Ventura Freeway, but the agency withdrew the idea in February after receiving about 12,000 protest letters. The commission took no position on the Ventura Freeway lane because its committee, which studied the idea, was split on whether to recommend it.

John LaFollette, the dissenter in the Dec. 16 vote on the San Diego Freeway plan, said he would rather see all lanes of an expanded freeway available to all vehicles, rather than creating resentment by establishing restricted lanes.

"I don't think that preferential treatment should be given to some without a vote of the majority of users of the 405," he said. "If we try it for six months one way, then six months another, then we could let people decide."

The El Segundo Employers Assn., a group of 26 major employers, was a strong supporter of the commission's recommendation but asked that the car-pool lane be tried on a temporary basis.

'A Lot of Uncertainty'

Don Camph, executive director of the association, said that car-pool lanes are "still a fairly new idea, and there is still a lot of uncertainty" about their effectiveness.

"We should try it for a year or two and make sure it accomplishes what it wants to accomplish," he said.

Peter Ve Haan, an analyst for the commission, said the board's decision represents a policy recommendation and must still survive funding decisions by the California Transportation Commission, which are usually made in June.

Jerry Baxter, Caltrans interim district director, said that based on the preference of the Los Angeles commission, Caltrans "will probably recommend" to the state commission that the new lanes be designated for car pools. If the project is approved, the car-pool lanes would link a similar lane on the Marina Freeway and one being built on the San Diego Freeway in Orange County.

Baxter said the money to widen the 13 miles of the 405 between the Marina and Harbor freeways is in the 1987-1988 budget, but Caltrans is still trying to get additional money for the southern half of the project to the Orange County line.

Depending on which construction option Caltrans and the Federal Highway Administration choose in adding the lanes to the freeway, the cost for the project could run from $60 million--for restriping the pavement to make lanes narrower--to $130 million--for adding pavement along the shoulder, said Ann Reeves, spokeswoman for the Los Angeles commission.

Baxter said Caltrans favors widening the freeway on the right-hand shoulder because commuters seem to favor keeping a wider buffer between opposing traffic lanes.

Marcia Mednick, the citizens representative on the commission and the chairwoman of the streets and highways committee, said no matter which plan is chosen, "whenever we can squeeze another lane out, we need to make the best use of it that is possible."

Offer Incentives

Mednick said the ride-sharing regulations recently approved by the air quality district, which will require businesses with 100 or more employees to offer incentives for car-pooling or face $1,000-a-day fines, sent a strong message to local agencies that they must reduce air pollution by finding ways to increase car-pooling.

"The AQMD regulations are the stick and the (car-pool) lanes are the carrot," she said.

Los Angeles City Councilman Marvin Braude, who is an AQMD board member, said a "coordinated strategy" among government agencies and local business is the best way to ensure the success of the car-pool lanes.

Tom Eichhorn, an AQMD spokesman, said the agency's board recently sent a letter to the Federal Highway Administration advocating that federal funding for the Ventura Freeway widening project be cut. The AQMD said that in light of its recent regulations requiring ride-sharing as a means to reduce pollution, the Ventura project violates state law that requires agencies act in accordance with state clean-air policies.

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