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4 More Carpool Lanes Urged to Ease 101 Crunch

The $3.36-billion effort would include a 31-mile stretch from Studio City to Thousand Oaks.

May 01, 2003|Caitlin Liu | Times Staff Writer

When transportation planners this week recommended widening portions of the 101 Freeway, they realized it could mean destroying some homes and businesses along the way, but they felt it was more important to tackle the corridor's worsening traffic problems.

The planners rejected four other options for improving the roadway as too expensive or inadequate in relieving congestion.

After months of poring over different scenarios, the group of about 15 planners--including representatives from local and state transportation agencies--on Tuesday agreed to propose the addition of two carpool lanes in each direction on a 31-mile stretch of the Ventura Freeway from Thousand Oaks to Studio City.

The $3.36-billion package also proposes a fifth regular lane for sections of the Ventura Freeway that now have only four lanes.

The recommendation, which includes short- and medium-term projects to improve ramps, connectors, nearby streets and transit, would affect 550 acres of freeway-adjacent property, but it is expected to save motorists a cumulative 78,000 hours a day.

"This one provides the most benefit with less proportional increase to project cost," said Rose Casey, a deputy district director for Los Angeles and Ventura counties for the California Department of Transportation, the agency in charge of a study on improving the 40-mile freeway corridor from downtown Los Angeles to Thousand Oaks.

The recommendation by the planners, who were part of a technical advisory committee, will be considered May 23 by a steering committee of transportation and elected officials. The latter group will then decide what to propose to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority board for action, possibly by this summer.

One option that planners rejected outright was a $6.3-billion proposal to add a second tier to parts of the 101. That idea, which had ignited the most community opposition, would have affected 585 acres along the corridor, while saving motorists a cumulative 97,000 hours a day.

The plan also called for adding a rail line down the middle of the freeway, but the planners decided that option made little sense now because a new rapid busway running parallel and north of the freeway is expected to open in a few years.

Another option was to add only one carpool lane in each direction, saving motorists an estimated 58,000 hours a day.

MTA planners originally preferred that proposal because they believed it would be less intrusive for surrounding communities, said Carol Inge, a deputy executive officer for the agency. But they reconsidered when they received more data.

With a price tag of $2.95 billion and an estimated 500 acres affected, that project would be almost as costly as the two-carpool-lane strategy preferred by Caltrans and others, Inge said.

A third option was a $512-million proposal that would involve widening ramps, beefing up bus service and improving streets along the corridor. That proposal would affect 33 freeway-adjacent acres and save drivers 17,000 hours a day.

While those ideas are also part of the more-ambitious freeway-widening proposal, transportation officials felt that approach alone was not enough.

The final option on the table, which was to do nothing, was not seriously considered, participants said.

"The congestion of the freeway now is just not tolerable," Inge said.

Without taking a formal vote, most of the planners reached a consensus on the proposal after each agency shared its views. The Los Angeles Department of Transportation, however, abstained from taking a stance.

The department will take a position once it receives more information on how the proposal would affect congestion on city streets, said James Okazaki, assistant general manager of the department. "As far as the [department] is concerned, we want to see improvements to the freeway," he said.

Also Wednesday, the Los Angeles City Council approved a resolution by Councilman Tom LaBonge asking the technical advisory committee for a more detailed analysis of the potential effect on neighborhoods.

LaBonge's original resolution, before he offered an amended version, sought to "minimize the displacement of people and businesses" and "oppose any proposal to widen the 101 Freeway" beyond property that is already owned by Caltrans.

He withdrew his original proposal because "it caused some alarm by others," including the city Transportation Department, LaBonge said. "Some council members have a different opinion [on freeway-widening] from what I do."

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