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California and the West

Probe Sought Into Century Freeway Flaw

Hearings: Saying they were kept in the dark, angry Assembly members request an investigation of Caltrans' handling of a $60-million erosion problem on new highway.

April 20, 1999|VIRGINIA ELLIS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SACRAMENTO — Lawmakers are poised to begin scrutiny of Caltrans' handling of a $60-million underground erosion problem that buckled a stretch of the Century Freeway, California's newest and most expensive superhighway.

Angered they were never informed about the multimillion-dollar effort to keep the new road from being further undermined by rising underground water, lawmakers have scheduled hearings and asked for an investigation.

Today, a joint legislative audit committee will consider a request by Assembly Speaker Antonio Villaraigosa (D-Los Angeles) and Assemblywoman Sally Havice (D-Cerritos) for a probe by the state auditor to find out "who is responsible for a 3 1/2-mile, $60-million design error which appears to have been covered up and concealed from the Legislature."

"I have very serious concerns about the problems affecting the Century Freeway," Villaraigosa said in a statement. "Considering how many people use this freeway every day . . . it is imperative that we get to the bottom of this fiasco."

Members of the state Senate Transportation Committee have asked Caltrans to answer questions about the freeway at a hearing at Los Angeles International Airport on Thursday.

And Sen. Tom Hayden (D-Los Angeles) has asked Caltrans to prepare a report on the problem for legislative budget writers.

To quell opposition to the freeway's construction from surrounding communities, Caltrans agreed in the 1960s to recess a section of it, between the 605 and Long Beach freeways, about 30 feet down. But internal reports show the agency failed to consider the freeway's proximity to a shallow water table that then rose steadily over the years.

By the time the highway was completed in 1993, the aquifer was so close to the roadbed, the reports show, that it began to erode the soils underneath. The erosion caused pavement to crack and buckle, forcing Caltrans to spend millions repairing a $2.2-billion highway it had just completed.

The repairs and a $40-million plan for a permanent fix were never made public or disclosed to the Legislature.

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