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October 03, 1994

Dear Street Smart:

The new traffic signal at Ventura Boulevard and Gloria Avenue in Encino near the new Burger King has a very long red light. The problem is that the timing does not change late at night and I have to stop at Burger King at 1 a.m.

I wonder if this is some kind of plot by Burger King to get me to stop and smell the burgers.

What can be done to make this light more user-friendly?

Allan Kheel, Encino

Dear Reader:

As much as we at Street Smart love to expose scandal and corruption--Whoppergate in this case?--there is none to report here. As far as we can tell, the problem you report is not part of a plot by Burger King to fatten you up.

It is instead just a malfunctioning signal at Gloria Avenue.

Brian Gallagher, a traffic engineer for the city of Los Angeles, tells us that all of the traffic lights along Ventura Boulevard are synchronized to improve the flow of traffic.

This means that lights on side streets such as Gloria Avenue change only when a car trips sensors embedded in the pavement, which in turn tell the lights along Ventura Boulevard to begin changing.

But the sensors at Gloria Avenue are broken. Until repairs can be made, the city has reset the lights at Gloria Avenue to change automatically every once in a while--regardless of whether there are any cars waiting.

This temporary solution, however, created a new problem--backups on Ventura Boulevard.

Unfortunately, you may either need to find another way home from work or get used to it, because Gallagher says it may take a few months to get the signal and sensors fixed.

Of the 4,000 signalized intersections in Los Angeles, as many as 10%--or 400--are malfunctioning on any given day. With repair crews able to fix two or three a day, the waiting list is rather long.


Dear Street Smart:

I live in Santa Clarita and I work in Glendale. Every day I drive through the Golden State-Antelope Valley freeway interchange that was destroyed in the Northridge earthquake and subsequently rebuilt.

My understanding is that the construction firms got paid big bonuses for finishing that interchange ahead of schedule. So why are they constantly closing down various lanes and portions of that freeway interchange to do work?

When you drive home in the evening, a lane will be closed on the Golden State Freeway or a lane will be closed on the Antelope Valley Freeway. One night when I was driving home, the entire Antelope Valley Freeway was closed. They were routing people off and on the freeway, just like after the quake.

I'm wondering what the terms of the deal between the state and the construction company were. If the bonus was paid, why are they still working on it?

Rich Varenchik, Valencia

Dear Reader:

Your concerns are understandable, given the attention paid by those of us in the news business to the bonuses given freeway contractors. While we ballyhooed the openings of major interchanges, we may not have been as clear as we could have been on the work that remains.

On the Golden State-Antelope Valley, or the 5 (Golden State)-14 (Antelope Valley) interchange, work is being done in two phases. The first phase--connecting the southbound 14 to the southbound 5, and the northbound 5 to the northbound 14--was reopened July 8, or 20 days ahead of its original schedule.

Early completion netted the contractor, Kasler Corp. of San Bernardino, an extra $3.5 million on the $19.6-million contract.

Work is continuing on the second phase, which will connect the southbound 5 to the northbound 14, and the southbound 14 to the northbound 5. Work on the $13.2-million project should be completed by November. If San Diego-based F.C.I. Constructors finishes early, it will also receive a bonus.

The flip side of the bonuses are clauses in the contracts that impose a penalty if construction crews take too long to finish their projects. Caltrans officials argue that the incentives are necessary to get work done quickly and are a cheaper alternative to letting work drag on.

Caltrans spokesman Rick Holland said closure of the Santa Monica Freeway cost Southern California roughly $1 million a day in lost wages and wasted time. Likewise, the closure of the Golden State Freeway at Gavin Canyon cost roughly $550,000 a day.

So while two connectors are up and running, two more remain under construction. Also, small adjustments remain under way on the entire interchange, which requires crews to shut down lanes from time to time.


Dear Readers:

The Los Angeles Department of Public Works Bureau of Street Lighting has asked Street Smart to pass along a message to our readers. And who are we to refuse an agency with such a long name?

To make sure the city's 220,000 street lights work properly, the bureau has started what it calls Operation Bright Lights. By calling (800) 303-5267, residents can report street lights that won't turn on--or won't turn off, for that matter.

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