Motorists who commute on the Moorpark Freeway will encounter rush-hour traffic jams for at least six more years before state funds are appropriated to widen the four-lane highway, state and county officials say.
Despite intense lobbying by Thousand Oaks politicians, the proposed $15-million widening of the freeway to six lanes faces tough competition for scarce funds from other highway projects, including several in Ventura County.
"The bottom line is there just is not enough money to do it all," said Hunt Braly, a spokesman for state Sen. Ed Davis (R-Valencia), whose district includes Thousand Oaks.
Even if it won a spot by next year on a state roster of high-priority projects, the two-year job would rank so low that construction would not start until 1995 at the earliest and 1999 at the latest, said Richard Spicer, acting executive director of the Ventura County Transportation Commission.
'By Then Unbearable'
"By then it will be unbearable," said Thousand Oaks Councilman Lee Laxdal, a vocal proponent of the widening project.
Already, residents say it can take 15 to 25 minutes in the morning to drive down the freeway, a 7.8-mile stretch of California 23, as traffic pours south into Thousand Oaks and heads east toward Los Angeles.
Rapid population growth, particularly in Moorpark, is responsible for transforming the freeway, which longtime Thousand Oaks resident Joan Dehner recalls as a country road, into a morass of traffic during rush hour.
Dehner remembers when driving the scenic freeway was a pleasure. Now, "it's just bumper to bumper" said Dehner, 33, who works as a financial analyst for a local aerospace firm.
Between 1977 and 1987, the number of vehicles on the Moorpark Freeway between the Ventura Freeway and Janss Road during peak hours nearly doubled, to 6,400 vehicles from 3,400 vehicles, according to the California Department of Transportation.
At some points, traffic during rush hour has already reached its design capacity of 8,000 vehicles per hour, the figures show. Completion in 1993 of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library near the Tierra Rejada Road exit is expected to further clog the highway.
The Moorpark Freeway was built in the late 1970s with a median strip wide enough to expand the highway to eight lanes, said Dick Sommerhauser, a Caltrans engineer.
But last year, the widening of the freeway was ranked least important on a list of 10 proposed freeway projects in the county.
"There are problems everywhere," said Jack Hallin, Caltrans chief of project development for Ventura County. "Some places it's congested or dangerous 15 minutes a day, some, 24 hours a day. It's all relative."
The list, compiled by the Ventura County Transportation Commission, is submitted annually to the state Transportation Commission, which each year comes up with a five-year plan to fund projects statewide.
Portions of California 126 between Santa Paula and Fillmore need to be widened for safety reasons from two to four lanes at an estimated cost of $17.6 million before the Moorpark Freeway widening project begins, Spicer said.
Second on the list is to add two lanes and improve interchanges on the Ventura Freeway where it narrows to four lanes near Oxnard Boulevard, Spicer said. That project is estimated to cost $40 million, with state and local jurisdictions splitting the tab, he said.
In eastern Ventura County, residents have long awaited construction of a 2.2-mile, $40-million freeway connector between California 23 and the Simi Valley Freeway. Construction is to begin in 1990 and end in 1993. The Moorpark Freeway now ends abruptly in southern Moorpark while California 118 peters out in eastern Moorpark, leaving traffic to wend its way along narrow city streets.
Concern About Connector
Thousand Oaks officials are concerned that once the connector is finished, easy access to the Moorpark Freeway will mean that even more vehicles will clog the highway. Laxdal even threatened that Thousand Oaks might sue Caltrans if it built the connector without also widening the freeway.
Caltrans officials dismiss the threat of such a suit. Even Laxdal recently agreed, at colleagues' urgings, to "put saber-rattling aside" to work with the state agency.
Meanwhile, Davis and Assemblyman Tom McClintock (R-Thousand Oaks) have asked Caltrans to conduct a study of the Moorpark Freeway project. The study will be completed by the end of summer and will help county officials rank the project for the 1990 list, Hallin said.