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Efforts to Expand Freeways Lose Favor

Lawmakers say they oppose widening of 101. MTA is told to scale back similar plans for 710.

May 15, 2003|Caitlin Liu and Deborah Schoch | Times Staff Writers

A legislative leader, bowing to public anger over the possibility of destroying hundreds of houses and businesses to widen the 101 Freeway, announced Wednesday that she now opposes the proposal, while a key transportation panel voted to oppose similar plans for the Long Beach Freeway.

Their voices join a growing chorus of public officials who have expressed skepticism or outright opposition over expansion projects on opposite ends of Los Angeles County that could displace homes, schools, parks and places of worship.

State Sen. Sheila Kuehl (D-Santa Monica), a major player in an ongoing study of the 101 corridor, last week had enthusiastically endorsed a proposal to widen the Ventura Freeway -- a project that, if implemented, could destroy nearly 700 homes and 250 businesses along the roadway, according to the latest estimates by the California Department of Transportation.

While some business groups and weary commuters have spoken out in favor of the proposal, Kuehl's office was flooded with angry e-mails and calls from San Fernando Valley residents who live along the corridor. "There was such an outpouring of grief and concern," Kuehl said in a telephone interview Wednesday. "People were so upset ... it really wasn't worth it."

Also declaring her opposition Wednesday was Assemblywoman Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills), who cited the "terrible toll" and "human cost" that freeway-widening would bring.

It was unclear Wednesday whether the loss of support from Kuehl and Pavley would scuttle a recommendation made two weeks ago by transportation planners to expand a section of the Ventura Freeway, from Studio City to Thousand Oaks, by two carpool lanes in each direction.

The $3.4-billion proposal, which has not yet been approved or received any funding, would widen some portions of the freeway, which now have only four regular lanes, by an additional lane. The proposal also calls for improving streets and beefing up public transit along the corridor.

Members of Kuehl's and Pavley's staffs are part of a steering committee that will meet May 23 to discuss the freeway-widening proposal. The proposal was made by a group of transportation planners known as the technical advisory committee.

Members of that committee have said that it would be up to the steering committee to decide whether their freeway-widening recommendation should be forwarded to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority board for approval.

But Kuehl said that the steering committee -- which is chaired by a deputy from her office -- has no such authority.

"We can certainly speak as a group ... about our concerns," Kuehl said. But she added it would be up to the technical advisory committee to decide what to present to the MTA board.

New Orders for MTA

Also Wednesday, the MTA board's planning and programming committee approved a motion, submitted by Los Angeles County Supervisor Gloria Molina, directing the MTA staff to discard its more ambitious plans and instead improve the Long Beach Freeway without removing homes.

The motion will be considered next week by the full board.

Molina said she was appalled by the "ridiculous number" of homes and businesses that could be destroyed -- about 900 structures by one estimate -- if certain proposals to improve the 710 Freeway take effect.

The motion would direct MTA staff to instead express their preference for a proposal that would attempt to ease traffic by managing cargo flow, increasing hours at port terminals and improving transit, at a cost of $355 million. It does not involve "concrete-and-asphalt" solutions such as widening the freeway or rebuilding interchanges.

The motion also calls for the MTA staff to help create what it calls a "hybrid alternative" that would include pieces of three more ambitious proposals -- but would not affect homes.

The MTA committee vote cast a pall over planners' ambitious plans to create elevated truck lanes or carpool lanes on the 18-mile stretch of the 710 from East Los Angeles to Long Beach. The boom in truck traffic to and from the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach has created congestion and safety problems on the freeway, designed and built in the 1950s and '60s.

If the MTA board supports Molina's motion, it could totally reshape a plan that engineers have spent more than two years developing. In discussions this spring, many officials expressed their preference for multibillion-dollar solutions that would include removing up to 700 homes and 259 businesses.

Even before Molina's motion, the technical advisory committee for the 710 project responded to community concerns by postponing a vote on choosing a plan and is asking the consultant on the study -- Parsons Brinckerhoff Quade and Douglas Inc. -- to study how to minimize right-of-way requirements, air pollution and congestion while improving safety. The firm is also the project consultant on the 101 corridor.

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