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Traffic Update for Record Book: Santa Monica Freeway Is No. 1

February 23, 1988|STEVE HARVEY | Times Staff Writer

The Ventura Freeway has skidded out of the Guinness Book of World Records.

Three years after Caltrans named it the world's most heavily traveled thoroughfare, the agency says it was all a mistake, and the Santa Monica Freeway is the true leader and the Ventura probably never was No. 1.

"Some of our counting stations were not working (on the Santa Monica) and we underestimated the numbers (of vehicles)," Nick Jones, a Caltrans associate engineer, said Monday. "Now we've got the stations in place and we've got more accurate numbers."

Those show the Santa Monica Freeway welcoming 315,000 vehicles a day in 1987, tailgated by the San Diego with 300,000 and the Ventura at No. 3 with 277,000.

The most pounded piece of pavement is on the Santa Monica between Normandie and Vermont avenues, followed by the San Diego near Olympic Boulevard.

"I was always suspicious about that claim (of Ventura as the No. 1)," said KNX radio's Bill Keene, dean of Los Angeles traffic reporters. "After all, the Santa Monica's wider."

However, the Ventura may soon be crawling neck and neck with the Santa Monica for the No. 1 ranking. Two widening projects are scheduled on the freeway, one of which has just begun along the stretch known as the Woodland Hills Bottleneck.

Not only that, but a study group commissioned by the Legislature has proposed double-decking the Ventura.

"Well, when you're No. 3, you have to try harder," said KFI traffic reporter Mark Denis.

The Santa Monica Freeway's new No. 1 ranking is just its latest distinction.

It was the site of the diamond lane controversy of 1976, the first bad puns on electronic-message signs (remember "Don't Be Fuelish!") and the western terminus of the ill-fated Christopher Columbus Transcontinental Highway.

The Columbus designation was the idea of former Caltrans Director Adriana Gianturco, who envisioned signs along the interstate all the way to the Atlantic Coast. Unfortunately, the name never got beyond the California border because Arizona refused to join in the salute.

The Santa Monica Freeway has even been immortalized in a country song ("Santa Monica Freeway . . . sort of makes a country girl blue-oo-oo-oo") while the closest the Ventura Freeway came to such recognition was the ditty by the group America that begins, "Ventura Highway/ Where the days are longer. . . ."

About the only distinction the Ventura Freeway can boast of now is the collection of 25 billboards along a 3 1/2-mile stretch in Agoura Hills dubbed "Billboard Alley" by local residents. Some of those residents want to see the alley go too.

Officials for the Guinness Book of World Records, which lists the Ventura's bogus distinction on Page 273 of the 1988 edition ("Roads and Traffic" section), could not be reached in New York on Tuesday. However, their initial skepticism about Caltrans' 1985 finding was well-founded. "We're particular about what we put in the book," a spokesman said then, pointing out that the claim would have to be backed up by an authoritative independent source.

Some drivers questioned Caltrans' latest statistics Monday.

Nominees for Worst

Sherman Oaks publicist Roger Beck said: "The San Diego is the worst experience in the world. My wife used to be able to drive from Granada Hills to Newport Beach faster than she could drive from Granada Hills to Century City because she could take a circuitous route and miss the San Diego up this way."

Susan Pasternak, a deputy to City Council member Joy Picus, said: "I still think the Ventura is the worst. The only way I've been able to keep my sanity is to car-pool."

Caltrans' Jones (who commutes on the Glendale Freeway, ranked 15th in congestion out of 16 freeways in the county) says it's academic.

"They (the top three) are so congested none is faster than the other."

Keene thinks the Ventura does deserve some mention, though.

"I still think the Ventura's crazier because people are going longer distances and all changing lanes at once. You know Murphy's Law--the other lane's always going faster."

LOS ANGELES COUNTY'S BUSIEST FREEWAYS IN 1987

Freeway:

Santa Monica (10)--Eastbound at Normandie Avenue in Los Angeles

Daily Average Number of Vehicles Counted:

315,000

Freeway:

San Diego (405)--Northbound at Olympic Boulevard in Los Angeles

Daily Average Number of Vehicles Counted:

300,000

Freeway:

Ventura (101)--Westbound at the junction of the San Diego in Sherman Oaks

Daily Average Number of Vehicles Counted:

277,000

Freeway:

Harbor (110)--Northbound at 5th and 6th streets in Los Angeles

Daily Average Number of Vehicles Counted:

260,000

Freeway:

Golden State (5)--Northbound at the junction of the Pasadena in Los Angeles

Daily Average Number of Vehicles Counted:

240,000

Freeway:

Artesia (91)--Eastbound at Clark Avenue in Bellflower

Daily Average Number of Vehicles Counted:

239,000

Freeway:

Pomona (60)--Eastbound at the junction of the Orange in Diamond Bar

Daily Average Number of Vehicles Counted:

222,000

Freeway:

Foothill (210)--Eastbound at Lake Avenue in Pasadena

Daily Average Number of Vehicles Counted:

221,000

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