A 7 1/2-mile carpool lane opens this morning on the southbound San Diego Freeway in the Sepulveda Pass, one of the state's busiest stretches of highway, according to Caltrans.
The $20-million project adds a fifth lane to the southbound 405 from the Ventura Freeway (101) interchange in Sherman Oaks to the Wilshire Boulevard exit in Westwood.
"This will help ease the bottleneck under the 101," said Richard Katz, co-chairman of the San Fernando Valley Transportation Strike Force. "It'll be a number of small steps like this that add up to improve people's commute."
The carpool lane, which took 16 months to build, is part of a $37-million effort to unclog traffic on the 405. But the improvements will not include a carpool lane for motorists heading north into the San Fernando Valley.
California Department of Transportation spokeswoman Margie Tiritilli said no funding has been allocated to buy the right of way for a northbound lane, which also would require broadening the Mulholland Bridge.
Still, those who drive the 405 say they welcome the one-direction carpool lane, if only because its completion removes construction crews.
"That is a horrible freeway to travel in the morning," said Jacqueline Conners Appelbaum, an attorney who commutes from her Sherman Oaks home to her Beverly Hills office. "Hopefully, now this will relax the congestion."
Los Angeles City Councilman Jack Weiss, whose district borders the freeway, said his office fields frequent complaints about the freeway. "Just having some closure on the project itself will be a positive thing for motorists," he said.
During peak hours, the extra lane--reserved for vehicles carrying at least two people--is designed to draw 1,500 cars an hour from the other lanes, Tiritilli said. Motorcycles with a single rider can also use the carpool lane.
Among the other 405 improvements is a new auxiliary lane that helps motorists enter the northbound side of the freeway, between Mulholland Drive and the Sepulveda Boulevard underpass. It should be completed by June, Caltrans officials say.
Groundbreaking will take place this year for another lane on the connector between the northbound 405 and eastbound 101, to be finished by the end of 2003. Caltrans also plans to add a lane to the northbound Sepulveda offramp and build a ramp at Greenleaf Street in Sherman Oaks, to be finished in 2009.