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Help for Freeway Project Sought

Councilman Weiss asks colleagues to green-light improvement work on the 101-405 interchange.

November 27, 2002|Caitlin Liu | Times Staff Writer

Choked with more than 530,000 vehicle trips a day, the junction of the Ventura and San Diego freeways in the San Fernando Valley is the second-busiest interchange in the state and the seventh in the nation.

But nerve-wracked motorists who use the interchange may be about to get some relief.

On Tuesday, Los Angeles City Councilman Jack Weiss asked his colleagues to throw their support behind a $40-million freeway improvement project -- which would include permanently closing the Ventura Boulevard onramp -- to help ease congestion.

"Right behind me is a twisted interchange ... which had to have been designed by someone with a twisted mind," said Weiss at a morning news conference atop a Sherman Oaks parking garage with a panoramic view of snarled freeway traffic below.

Weiss said his proposal would ensure that the city "green-lights everything that can be humanly done ... to fix this interchange once and for all." If approved by the council, work on the project could begin in spring 2004.

For years, motorists who use the Ventura Boulevard onramp to access the northbound 405 Freeway have had to cut across streams of cars merging onto connecting ramps to the 101 Freeway. The new project would end the colliding flow of traffic by replacing the Ventura Boulevard onramp with one that would funnel cars under the 101-bound traffic.

During construction, work crews would also close two other nearby freeway on- and offramps at Sepulveda Boulevard for nine months, Caltrans officials said. Such ramp closures require city approval.

State and city transportation officials have already pledged to work together to help expedite construction. If all goes as planned, the project could be completed by summer 2006, said Raja Mitwasi, Caltrans' deputy district director.

Caltrans has also agreed to assist in the widening of Sepulveda Boulevard, which would help save Los Angeles $300,000 on an estimated $800,000 project, said James Okazaki, assistant general manager for the city's Department of Transportation.

"They're doing us a favor, and we're doing them a favor," Okazaki said. "The lesson learned is everyone benefits if we cooperate."

In a similar spirit, leaders of Valley homeowner and business groups -- some of whom have vehemently opposed other transportation projects -- turned out Tuesday to show support for the interchange improvement project.

Chuck Betz, treasurer of the Sherman Oaks Homeowners Assn., said it's about time something was done about the congested Ventura Boulevard onramp, where motorists in merging lanes frequently cut each other off.

"You're jockeying for lanes," Betz said. "It's a terrible situation."

Though the ramp closures and ongoing construction are expected to temporarily create more traffic snarls on city streets, Betz and others said they believe the project will ultimately reduce congestion and increase safety for drivers.

Meanwhile, Caltrans is in the middle of two other projects at or near the interchange.

A $10-million project is underway to widen the northbound 405 connector to the eastbound 101. The improved connector, which will be able to carry twice as many cars, will be completed in spring 2004, according to the agency.

Caltrans work crews are also building an auxiliary lane on the northbound 405 between Mulholland Drive and Greenleaf Street to make it easier for drivers to merge onto and off the freeway. The agency expects to finish the $11-million project in summer 2003.

The 101-405 freeway interchange "is symbolic of the frustrations that Valley commuters have in trying to get from the Valley to the L.A. Basin," said Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks), who secured federal funding in 1998 to study the crossing and propose solutions.

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