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Freeway Solution Starts Over

With a plan to widen the 101 on hold, officials turn their attention to several smaller projects.

May 22, 2003|Caitlin Liu | Times Staff Writer

Having shelved plans to widen the 101 Freeway, Caltrans is left with a menu of smaller projects that, taken altogether, will produce only a fraction of the improvement in congestion that planners had hoped to achieve, officials said Wednesday.

The collection of smaller projects, which were also part of the original $3.4-billion freeway widening proposal, would save motorists about 17,000 hours a day, compared with the 78,000 hours a day that would have been saved if the Ventura Freeway were expanded, according to Caltrans calculations. With more than 300,000 vehicles using the freeway each day, the time savings from the smaller projects would amount to only a few minutes for each motorist.

Because the $512 million in smaller projects would have less effect on surrounding communities, officials and planners view them as more politically and economically palatable than adding lanes. The widening proposal had called for adding at least two lanes in each direction from Studio City to Thousand Oaks.

"The 101 widening is dead. It's a dead issue," said Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, who is also vice chairman of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority board. "Let's spend our time and energy on what's achievable and can get public support."

The apparent end to the widening proposal disappointed some planners and others who have argued that the state needs to take dramatic steps to relieve congestion on the freeway.

In the past, proposals to double-deck the freeway, add a monorail or dig a subway along the corridor all have fizzled in the face of heated community opposition, lack of money or both.

"The real issue is you have a corridor of 350,000 daily vehicles.... There will be 450,000 to 500,000 vehicles 10 years from now," said Hasan Ikhrata, director of transportation planning and policy for the Southern California Assn. of Governments. "You need more than what's on the table right now."

But, he added, even small projects are "better than nothing."

Caltrans said the smaller projects would involve 33 acres adjacent to the freeway, but could not estimate how many, if any, homes or businesses would be affected.

Three weeks ago, transportation planners recommended widening 31 miles of the Ventura Freeway, but vociferous opposition soon drowned out those who were supportive.

Proponents, including Los Angeles Mayor James K. Hahn, business leaders and fed-up motorists, believed that something ambitious had to be done to improve congestion along the 101 corridor, already the second-busiest in Los Angeles County.

But opponents, including many residents and some business owners along the corridor, feared losing their property and argued that the proposed high-occupancy vehicle lanes would not be used by most commuters anyway.

Other elected officials spoke out against freeway widening, and earlier this week Caltrans announced it would withdraw the proposal and subject it to further study.

The original freeway widening proposal would have affected 545 acres and could have involved nearly 700 residential buildings, about 250 commercial structures and a handful of schools, hospitals and churches, according to Caltrans.

A transportation steering committee will meet Friday to discuss the small projects and whether they should be submitted to the MTA board for approval.

The package of projects includes improving 13 freeway exit ramps, creating 16 short segments of auxiliary lanes to help motorists merge on and off the freeway, improving five major arterial streets, adding rapid buses, increasing subway and Metrolink service and expanding parking at transit stations along the 40-mile corridor from downtown Los Angeles to Thousand Oaks, according to the California Department of Transportation.

The proposal also calls for the implementation of an "intelligent transportation system" that would involve changeable electronic freeway message signs to alert motorists about traffic conditions, cameras to monitor traffic flow and communication links between Caltrans and Los Angeles Department of Transportation computers to allow the agencies to better manage traffic.

Transportation planners from the MTA, the California Department of Transportation, the Southern California Assn. of Governments and Los Angeles Department of Transportation hope these smaller projects can be completed within 10 to 15 years, while bigger ideas -- like freeway widening, double decking or rail -- have been tabled in the hope that one day the political and economic climate changes.

"We would like to revisit the longer-term solutions when there are more realistic chances of getting them funded," said Kevin J. Michel, director of the MTA's San Fernando Valley Valley/North County Area Planning Team.

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