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Parkway Will Be Road to Nowhere Until Hotel-Office Complex Is Built


WESTCHESTER — Dogged by delays ranging from the mundane to the strange, a four-lane parkway through Westchester appears headed toward a November completion date, a full year behind schedule and with its primary purpose at least temporarily in doubt.

The Westchester Parkway, an east-west thoroughfare connecting Pershing Drive and Sepulveda Westway, was originally ordered by city planners to handle traffic generated by a proposed hotel-office complex on the north side of Los Angeles International Airport.

The recession and its accompanying glut of hotel rooms and office space have forced the Los Angeles Department of Airports to put the development on hold indefinitely, leaving open the question of whether the $22.6-million parkway ever will fulfill its main mission of serving the complex.

"It's a lot of money to build a street connecting Sepulveda Westway and Pershing Drive if you're not going to get some use out of it," said Bob Millard of the Department of Airports, the agency overseeing construction of the parkway.

The airport stresses that the hotel and office project has merely been postponed, not abandoned, and that eventually the parkway will serve a busy complex. To date, the airport has yet to select a developer for the site, nor is it actively seeking proposals.

"The fact that the development project is not imminent would not really affect the parkway project," airport spokeswoman Nancy Niles said.

Although some residents say the road will improve traffic flow in Westchester, a city traffic count last May showed that Westchester's existing major east-west street, Manchester Avenue, is adequate to handle existing volumes.

City Traffic Engineer Patrick Tomcheck said the parkway will ease congestion on other local streets, particularly in Playa del Rey, where commuters attempting to travel north and east from Manhattan Beach clog Culver Boulevard during peak morning traffic.

Still, traffic woes in that area have not been severe enough to spur construction of a new parkway.

"If the airport wasn't going to be expanding, there probably wouldn't have been a great outcry for it," Tomcheck said. "We rarely build completely new streets anymore."

The projected completion of the road is a year behind schedule, and its cost has risen by $400,000 due to, among other things, the removal of six obsolete Nike missile bunkers, early relics of the Cold War era.

Although only two bunkers stood in the path of the proposed parkway, airport officials decided to have the additional four removed and the entire area graded when the parkway's main contractor, Tutor-Saliba Co., submitted what the officials considered a favorable price of $45,000 per bunker.

Other hitches in the project, according the Department of Airports, included:

* Special telephone poles for guiding above-ground power lines underground at Lincoln Boulevard were requisitioned from Southern California Edison far too late to meet the project's original timetable.

* A Shell Oil Co. pipeline below the roadbed turned out to be considerably shallower than originally believed and had to be rerouted.

* Workers unexpectedly encountered underground electric and irrigation lines servicing the airport-owned Westchester Golf Course and had to rewire the area and install new sprinkler lines.

Red tape also contributed to the slowdown. Airport officials said the state Department of Transportation was slow to grant a permit that was needed before construction could begin on the bridge over Lincoln Boulevard, which is part of California Route 1.

Millard described the airport's decision to begin construction before securing the permit as a gamble, "probably one we wouldn't do again."

Caltrans' project manager, Debbie Mah, denied that the permit was granted in untimely fashion, saying the airport didn't aggressively pursue it for several years because the project was inactive.

"Once it picked up again and they wanted to move ahead, we tried to work with them," Mah said.

Caltrans granted the encroachment permit in October, 1990.

The delays have meant an additional year of construction noise and occasional complaints of dust in downtown Westchester and nearby neighborhoods.

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