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Century Freeway Opening Set for Oct. 14 : Transportation: $2.2-billion roadway is equipped with sensors in pavement and TV cameras to monitor traffic flow.


Los Angeles' newest freeway--and most likely its last--is poised to open next month, a 17-mile, eight-lane roadway stretching from El Segundo to Norwalk that is equipped with closed-circuit television cameras and traffic sensors, Caltrans officials announced Friday.

At $2.2 billion, the behemoth Century Freeway project has been touted as the nation's most expensive, but officials noted that it is being completed on time and on budget.

Workers are scurrying to put on finishing touches in the days remaining before the freeway's opening Oct. 14. Fencing is being erected. Flowers and bushes are yet to be planted. Huge mountains of dirt sit near some ramps. Graffiti splashed on much of the brand-new freeway walls and signs await cleanup.

But to traffic management officials, the project--formally known as the Interstate 105 Glenn Anderson Freeway--is a thing of beauty that could ease traffic congestion on surface streets and surrounding freeways.

Although Caltrans officials hope to close gaps in some of the region's freeways, they concede that escalating costs of land and construction, coupled with community opposition, make it unlikely that a roadway project of this scale will be attempted again in this region.

"We have a jewel here," said Chuck O'Connell, chief of the Caltrans district maintenance field branch. "It's the gem of freeways."

By 2010, Caltrans officials expect 195,000 vehicles per day to travel the Century Freeway west of the Long Beach Freeway and 230,000 vehicles to travel east of the Long Beach Freeway. In non-peak hours, officials said, they expect about 8,000 per hour to travel the roadway, which cuts an east-west swathe through nine cities--including Hawthorne, Inglewood, and Lynwood--and touches the eastern edge of Los Angeles International Airport.

The roadway, which boasts four freeway-to-freeway exchanges, will connect four major north-south throughways: the San Diego (405), Harbor (110), Long Beach (710), and San Gabriel River (605). Running parallel to the Santa Monica (10) and the Artesia (91) freeways, the Century will provide commuters with another east-west route that includes six lanes for regular traffic and two for buses and car pools.

Green Line trolley tracks also run down the middle of the freeway. The Green Line, still under construction, is scheduled to open in May, 1995.

The ambitious endeavor, mostly financed by the federal government, included money to construct more than 5,000 units of affordable housing, much of it to replace homes removed because of the construction. The 30 years of planning that went into the project brought a number of innovations. They include sensors embedded in the pavement that will alert Caltrans officials to slowing traffic or cars screeching to a halt. The sensors will trigger television cameras that will show Caltrans officials the cause of the problem so they can dispatch help.

Under the existing system, it takes Caltrans about 20 minutes to assess a freeway problem. With the cameras in place, they will instantly know whether to send for firefighters, for instance, or toxic-waste removal workers. In an effort to ensure that traffic keeps moving, the roadway also is equipped with ramp meters on its freeway-to-freeway connectors.

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