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Rocky Stretch of Road to the Sea

Traffic: Planners back four lanes from port to Moorpark. But some in Las Posas Valley fear wider 118 will ruin rural lifestyle.


A plan to develop a four-lane highway stretching 29 miles from the Port of Hueneme to Moorpark is years from completion.

But the battle over how this roadway will affect Las Posas Valley residents along the route is well underway and intensifies as each new piece of the project is developed.

On one side of the fight are transportation planners, who say the expanded highway is necessary to accommodate increasing traffic and growth. They say a key portion of the project--the widening of California 118--is essential to the plan.

On the other side are Somis homeowners, who argue the massive project is being constructed piecemeal without adequate environmental studies. They fear a widened California 118 would invite more development and heavy truck traffic that would destroy their rural lifestyle.

The anger, accusations and emotions represent a new type of road rage, one not created by drivers but rather by people whose quality of life is threatened by drivers.

"We have a chance to keep the last pristine agricultural valley in Southern California," said Somis resident John Kerkhoff. "Every time you have a transportation corridor, development springs along it. The agriculture happens to be in the way, and in the process we'll lose the heart of Somis."

Progress in developing the highway corridor has been difficult for the public to spot because the work has been carried out for years by different agencies with little acknowledged coordination among them. The corridor runs along state, county and city roads between the port and Moorpark.

But some Las Posas Valley residents contend the agencies have deliberately broken up the project to avoid having to conduct an environmental review of the entire project and its effect on the region. And, they say, the agencies are violating the law by failing to acknowledge how each project fits together to create traffic patterns that no agency has analyzed.

"If they would own up to creating a corridor, instead of treating them as separate little projects, then we could have a full-fledged public discussion about the Las Posas Valley," said Brett Tibbitts of the citizens' group Save Our Somis. "We can't ever get to that discussion because they take the position that there is not a larger plan."

California environmental laws "say they have to take into account past, present and probable future projects," Tibbitts said. "They aren't doing that. And it's illegal."

Project opponents want an environmental study to assess how much development, traffic and pollution would potentially be created in Las Posas Valley by widening the highway.

Tibbitt's and others frequently refer to the California Environmental Quality Act, which states, "Cumulative impacts can result from individually minor but collectively significant projects taking place over a period of time."

To bolster its argument, the citizens' group has hired a law firm that specializes in environmental and land-use law.

"All we are asking is that they do their job and analyze the effects of this project together with other projects," said Laurel Impett, an urban planner for the law firm. "We think there are some strong legal deficiencies that are un-addressed."

Impett said a lawsuit has not yet been filed, because the group is hoping to persuade officials to do a full environmental review of the entire 29-mile highway project between the port and Moorpark.

Officials Cite Safety Concerns

Transportation officials say many of the road improvements are necessary for safety reasons, and that other projects are part of the county's General Plan written more than a decade ago. They do not agree that widening the roads feeding the rural portions of California 118 would bring more traffic.

Responding to complaints, Bob Sassaman, Caltrans' district director, said decisions on widening California 118 do not lie with the California Department of Transportation, but with the county's Transportation Commission. "The only thing I do is make operational improvements."

Ginger Gherardi, executive director of the Transportation Commission, said the county has always intended to widen California 118. She said the road already has the traffic to warrant widening.

Gherardi said the commission plans an environmental analysis of the California 118 segment of the roadway project. But she said the analysis will exclude roads that connect to the highway.

"It is not warranted to do a study on the 118 that goes all the way to the port," she said, "because 98% of the trucks on the 118 do not come from the port."

She said a study to be released later this month will show about 70% of the truck traffic on California 118 stays in the county.

Planning for widening the roadway could start in a few months, Gherardi said, but she does not expect the project to be completed for at least 15 years.

"Based on traffic that is there now, we are doing long-range planning for what will be needed on that road," she said.

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