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County Irate Over Delays in Widening of 55 Freeway

Supervisor Spitzer wants OCTA to find out why the project lags. Caltrans denies it suffers chronic holdups.


Angered by what has been described as a six-month delay on the Costa Mesa Freeway widening project, county Supervisor Todd Spitzer said Caltrans is too lax in meeting construction deadlines and that motorists are paying the price.

On Monday, Spitzer, who is also an Orange County Transportation Authority director, said he wanted the agency to investigate the cause of the delays.

"I travel this route all the time and I never see anyone working--not at night, not during the day, not on weekends," Spitzer said. "People are scratching their heads and wondering what's going on. They've got to be asking themselves, 'Is this an example of our tax dollars at work?' "

Among other complaints, motorists say the heavily used Collins Avenue overpass in Orange has been closed too long and that construction barriers and debris are a distraction.

A Caltrans decision early this year to assign a new chief of construction for the project also raised eyebrows among some transportation officials, who wondered if the change was made because of missed deadlines. Caltrans denied that, saying it was a standard administrative move.

The $118-million project, begun in 1999, will widen the Costa Mesa Freeway between the Riverside and Garden Grove freeways. The work is being done in four segments. Earlier this year, commuters complained that work was lagging at the Costa Mesa and Garden Grove freeways, where a connector ramp had been closed for two years. One connector ramp opened last month, with the rest of the interchange to be completed soon.

Caltrans officials acknowledge that completion of the Katella and Collins avenues portion of the freeway has been delayed from late 2001 to early 2002 but blame rain and issues surrounding replacement of power lines.

Caltrans spokeswoman Sandra Friedman disputed claims that the project was suffering chronic delays. "It depends on how you look at it," she said. "All this isn't an exact science."

Science or not, Spitzer and fellow Supervisor Cynthia P. Coad, also an OCTA director, said they had received many complaints from residents about the work.

Consequently, Spitzer and other OCTA officials say they wonder whether Caltrans should be allowed to oversee upcoming freeway upgrades, most notably the long-awaited widening of the Garden Grove Freeway. Recently, OCTA Director and county Supervisor Chuck Smith questioned Caltrans' proposed timetable for that project, saying the 2005 start date seemed too distant. "We need to see what we can do about these scheduling problems," Smith said.

Spitzer and others have asked that OCTA reconsider its decision to let Caltrans administer the Garden Grove Freeway project. Spitzer said OCTA may be better able to get the project finished on time. "I'm worried that Caltrans isn't giving us the bang for our buck," he said. "I think they've got a lot of explaining to do. They need to explain why the 55 project is progressing at a slower-than-snail's pace."


The Drive for a Better 55

Work is underway on a three-year, $118-million construction project on the Costa Mesa Freeway designed to ease traffic congestion. When completed in 2002, the 55 Freeway will be expanded to four lanes and one carpool lane in each direction. A closer look at the project:


Construction dates: Mid-1999 to August 2001

Lincoln Ave.

* Reconfigure northbound on- and offramps

* Widen undercrossing, add one lane in each direction

Meats Ave.

* Widen overcrossing, add two lanes in each direction

Taft Ave.

* Widen undercrossing


Construction dates: Mid-1999 to early 2002

Katella Ave.

* Add northbound onramp

* Redesign existing ramps

Collins Ave. (Dec. 2001)

* Widen overcrossing


Mid-1999 to summer 2001

2001 Walnut Ave.

* Widen overcrossing

Chapman Ave.

* Reconfigure all on- and offramps

* Widen undercrossing, add one lane in each direction


Mid-1999 to April 2001

La Veta Ave.

* Widen overcrossing, add one lane in each direction

22/55 Interchange

* Transition: Additional lane on westbound 22 from 55 to Glassell Ave.

* Reconfigure Chapman offramp

Source: Caltrans


Graphics reporting by BRADY MacDONALD / Los Angeles Times

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