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Caltrans Shelves Plan to Widen the 101 Freeway

A proposal to add at least four lanes in the San Fernando Valley meets fierce opposition.

May 21, 2003|Caitlin Liu | Times Staff Writer

Caltrans has suspended a controversial proposal to widen the Ventura Freeway from Studio City to Thousand Oaks that could have required the demolition of nearly 1,000 businesses, churches and homes, its top official said Tuesday.

The decision was attributed to outspoken opposition on the part of elected officials and property owners along the corridor.

"The public process has worked here," said California Department of Transportation Director Jeff Morales. "We can't do anything without public consensus."

Though Caltrans is putting the freeway-expansion proposal on hold, the agency will continue to push other congestion-relief projects along the 101 corridor -- such as widening ramps, beefing up public transit and improving nearby streets -- that would not require the destruction of homes and businesses, he said.

Caltrans' retreat was hailed as a victory by opponents of freeway expansion.

"What did they expect, that people would roll over for the bulldozers?" said Gerald A. Silver, chuckling. Silver, president of the Coalition of Freeway Residents, has been leading pickets as well as e-mail and petition campaigns protesting the expansion.

State Sen. Sheila Kuehl (D-Santa Monica) called Caltrans' decision wise.

Freeway-widening "was a recommendation that would cause so much grief," said Kuehl, who announced last week that she was withdrawing her earlier support for the proposal because she had heard from hundreds of outraged constituents along the corridor.

Without Kuehl's support, the proposal is probably "all but dead," said David Simmes, a Caltrans attorney.

A steering committee composed of representatives of transportation agencies and elected officials will meet Friday to consider a 101 Freeway improvement recommendation and whether the panel should forward any proposals to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority board. Laurie Newman, Kuehl's senior deputy, is chairwoman of the steering committee.

The recommendation will now include only short- and medium-term projects that "don't involve the taking of property," Morales said.

Transportation planners will reexamine the widening idea and other long-term alternatives, he said.

He did not specify which alternatives, but planners in the past have considered double-decking the freeway and adding rail lines.

Since a Caltrans-led group of transportation planners three weeks ago recommended a $3.4-billion package of projects to improve the 101, controversy over a key component -- widening the freeway by two carpool lanes in each direction -- has overshadowed the other aspects of the proposal, such as improving ramps, public transit and streets along the corridor.

The original proposal was expected to save motorists a cumulative 78,000 hours but could have destroyed nearly 700 residential buildings and about 250 commercial structures.

Caltrans also estimated that the widening could have affected 11 schools and churches, 12 medical and public facilities, eight parks and recreation areas and eight cultural sites.

The proposal was supported by Los Angeles Mayor James K. Hahn, local business leaders and weary motorists, who say an ambitious overhaul of the congested corridor -- the second-busiest in Los Angeles County -- is long overdue.

But the prospect of a wider freeway angered many residents along the corridor who feared losing their homes or were unwilling to live even closer to freeway traffic.

Also on Tuesday, Caltrans denied a request by The Times, filed under the California Public Records Act, for more detailed information on the effects freeway-widening would have on community facilities like schools, parks and hospitals along the 101 corridor.

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