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Valley Perspective | PERSPECTIVE ON TRANSPORTATION

Gridlock in the MTA Bureaucracy

The government agency responsible for the 101 / 405 freeway interchange mess is ducking a chance to speed up a quick fix.

November 08, 1998|WALLY KNOX | Democratic Assemblyman Wally Knox represents portions of the San Fernando Valley and Westside

Gridlock at the 101 / 405 interchange is a traffic nightmare, rivaled only by the bureaucratic stalling that threatens to keep our freeways clogged well into the next century.

More than half a million people use the Ventura / San Diego freeway interchange for work or leisure every day. Traveled regularly by hordes of road-raged Southern Californians, it is quite possibly the most gridlocked freeway convergence on the planet.

Isn't it inconceivable, then, that the government agency responsible for such a crucial route would duck the chance to speed up a quick, inexpensive fix? Yet that seems to be exactly what the Metropolitan Transportation Authority is doing.

In a surprise development recently, the state entity responsible for doling out funding for local freeway projects--the California Transportation Commission--disclosed plans to release half a billion dollars for traffic improvements in the Los Angeles area.

This is new, unexpected funding that could be used immediately for the 101 / 405 bottleneck and other priorities. Without this windfall, the soonest the MTA could seek funding to fix the interchange would be in the year 2000, and even then there would be no guarantee.

One single act can ensure that the new funding is put to work on congestion relief right away. The MTA must identify the interchange as a priority and apply for the money by Jan. 31, 1999.

But in a game of finger-pointing, buck-passing and foot-dragging, the MTA has refused to take advantage of this rare opportunity. The reasons why are not at all clear.

Two very doable projects to provide initial relief to 101/405 drivers have been identified by transportation experts: addition of a lane on the northbound 405 Freeway by widening it onto the shoulder, and addition of a new lane on the 405 connector to the eastbound 101. The cost of these projects is a modest $10 million, hardly a rounding error in terms of the price tag for most highway construction projects.

I testified before the MTA at its Oct. 22 meeting, urging the agency to fast-track the 101 / 405 solutions using the recent surplus.

In response, the MTA passed a motion directing its staff to ask the state transportation department, Caltrans, to consider advancing these projects. In other words, they said it was somebody else's problem.

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By attempting to offload the interchange issue to Caltrans, the MTA has turned its back on a burgeoning crisis. This comes despite enactment by the state Legislature in 1997 of a major reform of the system for funding local transportation projects that places the responsibility for these freeways squarely with the MTA.

Ironically, among the goals of the reform was improving the flexibility of local transportation agencies, such as the MTA, to address priorities and changing needs, and improving local agencies' poor delivery record for projects. Based upon the 101 / 405 debacle, it appears that the reform efforts are not working as intended.

Because the MTA has failed to act, I have asked the state transportation director to allocate funds from his limited inter-regional account for these top-priority lane construction projects.

As a final option, I am considering introducing an urgency measure when the Legislature convenes in December. If successful, the bill would accelerate 101 / 405 relief projects by two years so that construction of the new lanes could begin in 1999.

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Although it is important to focus on the short-term goal of expanding the interchange, this alone will not be enough to alleviate the logjam entirely. We must pursue long-range solutions as well.

Last month, Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater came to the San Fernando Valley to announce a $500,000 study of the 101 / 405 problem at the instigation of Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks). It is revealing that 3,000 miles away in Washington, D.C., the seriousness of our freeway crisis is understood, but here in Los Angeles, the downtown decision makers continue to ignore the needs of the Valley.

For those trapped in their cars at an endless standstill, infuriated as time passes, the MTA's delay on 101 / 405 solutions is unacceptable. Let's end the gridlock on the freeways now, but first end it in the bureaucracy in charge of them.

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