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Traff-ick! : Road Congestion Getting You Down? Blame Those Aging Intersections


Take your time. No need to rush through this story.

In fact, you may want to toss this newspaper into the car to have it handy the next time you're stuck in a rush-hour commute. No doubt there will be time to finish it while stuck at a congested intersection.

Honk. Scream. Gesture. None of that will have any significant impact. At certain times of the day and at definite spots around Ventura County, the traffic is here and it will stay here for awhile.

Where are all these cars coming from? Opinions vary.

"I get calls from college buddies on their car phones cussing me out," said Christopher Stephens, senior planner of the Ventura County Transportation Commission. "They say, 'When are you going to get this fixed? It's your fault.' "

But it's not really Stephens' fault. For one thing Stephens rides to work on a bike, daylight-saving time permitting. Although Stephens won't take the blame, he does have some ideas as to where the blame should be placed.

"Primarily the congestion is in commercial areas. Noon is possibly the worst time," Stephens said, "and to a lesser degree there is congestion in light-industrial areas."

And the list of congestion culprits adds quickly when Stephens tosses out the word "interchange." He said it's the age of the intersection that determines how well it functions. Many of the interchanges in Ventura County, he said, are approaching retirement age.

"Vineyard Avenue is the only modern interchange in the west end of the county," he said. "In Ventura they are very old and in most of Oxnard and Camarillo they are ancient--they are 30 years old."

"Caltrans refers to them as temporary, rural interchanges. You can tell by the words temporary and rural that they are not going to be adequate--and they aren't."

Stephens used the Oxnard Boulevard and Rose Avenue sites in Oxnard as examples of interchange hell.

"The Rose Avenue interchange is completely off-center," he said. "It has what we call 'hook' ramps with tight radii. You don't get up a lot of speed. The Oxnard Boulevard interchange--I don't know how to describe it. It's very unusual. And it's seasonal. You get summer tourists clogging Route 1."

And then there is the dreaded Five Points area in Oxnard. Bob Weithofer, the city's traffic and transportation manager, said the area couldn't really handle any more traffic than it already gets on a Friday afternoon.

"Ideally there would be no such thing as Five Points," he said. "The goal is to have a four-legged intersection. If we were down around 30,000 cars per day, I think it would be workable."

Sounds good, but with the number of cars at about 44,000 per day, and improvement about 10 to 15 years away, things don't look too promising for the foreseeable future.

In fact, improvements throughout the county will take about that long to get off the ground. The recent failure of Measure A, which would have raised $500 million over 20 years for traffic improvements, adds to the delay.

Based on the county Transportation Commission's project priority list, the plan to widen California 118 to four lanes between Saticoy and Moorpark is 18 years away (as opposed to a projected 5 1/2 to 6 1/2 years had Measure A passed).

Other projects have even lower priority. The Casitas bypass (27 years down the road), the Ventura Freeway/Victoria Avenue interchange (25 years), the Ventura Freeway/Borchard Avenue interchange (23 years) and the Ventura Freeway/Carmen Avenue interchange all have to wait their turns.

Meanwhile, the amount of traffic will continue to grow.

"Basically, right now things in Moorpark are not too bad. But they are going to get worse before they get better," said Traffic Engineer Mark Wessel, an employee of Willdan Associates, a private firm contracting with the city of Moorpark.

"In the next several years intersections here will deteriorate and it depends when improvements can be put in place whether they will deteriorate terribly or only some," he said.

In Camarillo, City Engineer Dan Greeley credited two factors with putting a lot more cars on the road.

"More people could move into the community and there could be an increase in the number of commercial and industrial traffic trips and service trips, like delivery trucks and street sweeping," he said.

Aside from state and local financing, which are constant roadblocks to road improvements, other factors that will affect the future of traffic in the county.

Most importantly, the number of vehicles within the county will probably continue to increase regardless of how little or how much the population increases.

"We have a residential growth management plan and we are contemplating a commercial growth management plan," said Bill Prince, Ojai's director of planning and building. "But I think there will be more congestion as long as the city doesn't do a moratorium on all developments and that is not in the offing."

Stephens also worries that partial management plans, while slowing things down, will not in the long run decrease traffic congestion.

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