While some Los Angeles streets are carrying thousands more cars than normal, traffic flow has improved on the region's crippled freeways--a sign that motorists are adjusting to post-earthquake commutes, Caltrans officials said Friday.
Although rain slowed traffic Friday, delays at the region's two major choke points--the Golden State and Santa Monica freeways--have eased dramatically. Delays on the Golden State into the Santa Clarita Valley, which had been 122 minutes, are down to 21 minutes, while detours on the Santa Monica average 17 minutes, said Jerry Baxter, director of the Caltrans district office.
"We are continuing to see fluctuations in travel time but it's beginning to settle down," Baxter said.
Since the Northridge earthquake, traffic volume is gradually returning to normal on the Golden State Freeway, which handled about 90% of its pre-quake volume this week. The Santa Monica and Simi Valley freeways are carrying about 40% of their normal loads--a result of numerous alternative routes along those two thoroughfares, Baxter said.
Traffic experts say that commuters will continue to experiment in their quest for the ideal route but noted that the improved flow of traffic means that many are coping.
"Commuters are adaptable," said David Rizzo, author of a book on alternative routes. For about half, "it's hard to get them to change their route; the other 50% are very ingenious at finding paths of their own on the surface streets."
Meanwhile, Caltrans officials pressed ahead in their efforts to reconstruct shattered freeways. On Friday, a $15-million contract was awarded to C.C. Myers Inc. to rebuild the Santa Monica Freeway--a project that is expected to be completed within 140 days. Caltrans estimated the project would cost $21 million.
In an effort to ensure that the work is done promptly, the company can be fined $200,000 for each day past the deadline. As an incentive for finishing early, Caltrans offered a bonus of $200,000 for each day ahead of schedule that work is completed. Baxter said he expects the Rancho Cordova-based firm--which built the double-deck structure on the Harbor Freeway--to finish early.
On Thursday, Caltrans officials awarded a $3.8-million contract that would allow traffic to be diverted to a westbound portion of the Simi Valley Freeway as workers rebuild the broken eastbound side. That work should be finished in two weeks, Baxter said.
So far, Caltrans has allocated nearly $41 million in federal funds for reconstructing bridges and $22 million for road repairs, Baxter said. Federal Highway Administrator Rodney Slater said that the agency is coming close to using up its initial emergency appropriation of $100 million--a sum that he said could be increased next week.
The shattered freeways have pushed thousands of cars onto city streets in several areas. Motorists avoid the battered portion of the Simi Valley Freeway by taking Reseda Boulevard and Devonshire Street. Reseda is carrying 158% more cars than usual; Devonshire has 151% more. Across town on the crippled Santa Monica Freeway, drivers are taking several east-west routes, including Pico Boulevard, which is carrying 69% more cars than normal.
"The city streets are holding up very well but it's reached capacity," said Tom Connor, assistant general manager of the city's Department of Transportation.
Ridership on Metrolink trains continued to drop throughout the week. On the Santa Clarita line, which had been the most heavily used since the quake, ridership dipped more than 50% Thursday. At its peak, ridership on the commuter trains increased to 31,276 daily passengers, with more than two-thirds boarding the Santa Clarita line. On Thursday, 19,000 passengers boarded systemwide and 9,800 rode the Santa Clarita trains.
"This is not unexpected," said Richard Stanger, executive director of Metrolink.
Despite the diminished ridership, Metrolink officials will open a Santa Clarita/Princessa station Monday. Stations in Northridge and Camarillo are expected to open Feb. 14.
Cutting the Wait
Quake-related delays have been trimmed for motorists driving northbound during the evening rush hour on Interstate 5 into the Santa Clarita Valley.
Date Interstate 5 Delay (in minutes) Jan. 25 122 Jan. 26 13 Jan. 27 50 Jan. 28 49 Jan. 31 7 Feb. 1 11 Feb. 2 21