Despite vociferous community opposition, a committee of transportation planners recommended Tuesday a $3.36-billion effort to improve and widen the 101 Freeway, a project that could require the leveling of some homes and businesses.
The proposal calls for at least two new lanes in each direction along 31 miles of the freeway corridor between Thousand Oaks and Studio City.
The widening would affect about 550 acres of adjacent land, said Rose Casey, a deputy district director for the California Department of Transportation. Caltrans could not provide immediate details on how many homes, schools, businesses or other properties might be affected, but said it plans to present the information at upcoming community meetings.
Although the project still faces a long process that could take years for approval and has no guarantee of being funded, the idea of widening the freeway already has some residents of the corridor in an uproar.
"That means thousands of homes and businesses would be displaced," said Gerald A. Silver, president of Coalition of Freeway Residents, a group that opposes widening. The advisory committee which made the recommendation "is an out-of-control group, because what they are doing is making policy," added Silver, protesting the committee's closed-door sessions.
Committee members said they are not subject to open-meeting laws because they are a working group that is only making a recommendation and has no authority to approve projects or request funding.
Others who drive along the corridor praised the transportation planners' efforts and said they look forward to anything that would improve traffic on the freeway, which is usually backed up in both directions during rush hour.
"This one might put a dent into congestion," said Barry Alter, a 67-year-old securities investor who lives in Encino. Although he said he feels sorry for people who might be forced to move, he said, "The freeway has got to be taken care of. One of the major shortcomings of our city is the fact that you can't go anywhere without sitting in traffic and inhaling smog and wasting a huge amount of time."
The committee's recommendation also includes short- and medium-term projects for improving transit, nearby streets, connectors and ramps along the corridor.
The technical advisory committee has been studying ways to improve a 40-mile stretch of the 101 corridor from downtown Los Angeles to Thousand Oaks. The group rejected proposals that would have added a single carpool lane in each direction, double-decked the freeway and added a rail line down the middle.
If the entire recommended package of improvements is implemented, it is expected to save drivers a cumulative 78,000 hours a day, said Casey.
The committee's proposal would widen the Ventura Freeway by two high-occupancy vehicle lanes on each side from the 134-170 interchange in Studio City west to Thousand Oaks. An additional mixed-flow lane would be added to areas along that stretch that now have only four lanes.
No recommendation was made to widen the Hollywood Freeway portion of the 101, from Studio City to downtown L.A., because the committee determined that much of the backup there is caused by a problematic four-level interchange downtown, said Carol Inge, deputy executive director for planning for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. That interchange may be the subject of a study.
In the next two weeks, Caltrans will hold three community meetings -- which will include a formal presentation on the proposed strategy -- along the corridor to gather feedback.
The recommendations and public comments will be forwarded to a steering committee, chaired by Laurie Newman, senior deputy for state Sen. Sheila Kuehl (D-Santa Monica), and which includes representatives from Caltrans, MTA, the Las Virgenes-Malibu Council of Governments and the city and county of Los Angeles.
The steering committee will present its proposal to the MTA board for a vote, possibly by this summer, Casey said.
Community meetings are scheduled Monday from 6 to 8:30 p.m. on May 5 at the First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood, 1760 N. Gower St., Los Angeles; on May 8 at the Agoura Hills/Calabasas Community Center, 27040 Malibu Hills Road, Calabasas; and on May 12 at Valley Beth Shalom Temple, 15739 Ventura Blvd., Encino.