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WESTSIDE / COVER STORY : Negotiating Roadways Now a Test of Tolerance, Ingenuity

January 20, 1994|MATHIS CHAZANOV | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Now the Westside's post-quake road test begins.

Traffic was generally light in the tentative first days after the early Monday morning temblor that wrecked a section of the Santa Monica Freeway (10), cutting the world's busiest thoroughfare in two. But no one expects the lull to last, least of all the engineers who must reroute the 300,000 or more cars that normally travel the roadway each working day.

"I don't think yesterday or today will be typical, because a lot of people stayed home to get their houses and families in order," John Fisher, principal transportation engineer for the city of Los Angeles, said Tuesday. "By the end of this week and next week, that will be the real test."

Adventurous drivers such as Prof. Norman Cohen of Occidental College left as early as 6 a.m. Tuesday, "testing the waters" for the commute from Venice to his campus in Eagle Rock.

The tactic worked well, at least for that day. But Cohen, a historian, experienced a strange reaction as soon as he left Venice Boulevard and rejoined the freeway at La Brea Avenue.

"I thought it was more bumpy than I'm used to," he said. "I was tense as hell during the entire (drive)."

Others, like attorney Sam Jason of Pacific Palisades, picked new routes. Avoiding the Santa Monica Freeway altogether, Jason headed east on Sunset Boulevard and slipped down the Hollywood Freeway (101) to his office on Wilshire Boulevard.

"It adds a bit of adventure but it's a routine I can do without," Jason said.

The freeway is not totally out of commission. It was opened Wednesday for eastbound traffic from the Pacific Ocean to the San Diego Freeway (405), and on from La Brea, and for westbound travelers from Downtown to the Washington Boulevard off-ramp, and on from La Cienega Boulevard.

On-ramps closed to eastbound traffic include those at Overland Avenue, National Boulevard, La Cienega, Venice Boulevard, Fairfax Avenue and Washington.

On-ramps closed to westbound traffic are at Washington, Fairfax and Venice.

The westbound connector ramp for traffic seeking to get onto the southbound San Diego Freeway is also closed.

For months on end, motorists will be forced to take surface streets to get around the mess in the middle.

The impact may be softened by the sophisticated technology recently installed to increase traffic flow along a so-called "smart corridor" including the freeway and Olympic, Pico, Venice, Washington and Adams boulevards.

*

Already, city engineers are rejiggering their computers to make for longer green lights to move cars along those key stretches.

And plans are being drawn for double-turn lanes to help drivers off the freeway, around the bottlenecks, and back onto the elevated highway.

An early problem was a spate of power failures that reduced key traffic signals to little more than four-way stop signs. But planners hope to have all signals operational before anticipated big traffic flows resume.

Drivers seeking updated information may call Caltrans at (800) 427-ROAD.

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