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Panel Submits Scaled-Down Plans for 101

With widening proposal on hold, committee recommends spending more than $500 million on ramps and other projects to cut traffic.

May 24, 2003|Caitlin Liu | Times Staff Writer

Despite the warning by one transportation planner that "the whole system is going to collapse," a committee developing plans to reduce congestion on the 101 Freeway on Friday put off recommending any big traffic-improvement project.

Instead, the group of about two dozen representatives of transportation agencies and local, state and federal officials agreed -- as expected -- to submit a package of small congestion-relief projects for the 40-mile corridor, from downtown Los Angeles to Thousand Oaks, for approval by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority board. The smaller projects -- estimated to cost more than $500 million -- would include improving 13 ramps and 14 arterial streets and intersections, building 16 short segments of auxiliary lanes for merging traffic, adding electronic freeway message signs and beefing up bus, subway and Metrolink services.

An earlier proposal to widen 31 miles of the freeway was shelved this week by the California Department of Transportation when heated community opposition caused it to lose political support.

Instead, the committee will now ask the MTA and the Southern California Assn. of Governments for a "placeholder" in their long-range plans -- a blank line of sorts, to be filled in with a yet-to-be-determined project.

"There has been no agreement over what the long-term decongestion plan would be," said state Sen. Sheila Kuehl (D-Santa Monica), whose senior deputy, Laurie Newman, was the committee chairwoman. But this way, Kuehl said, the effort toward a long-term solution would "stay in the pipeline" for later consideration.

Others expressed disappointment that, once again, a long-term solution for the 101 Freeway has been abandoned.

"Right now, this freeway corridor is handling almost 200% of its designed capacity," said Agoura Hills Mayor Jeff Reinhardt, who is a member of the Southern California Assn. of Governments' transportation committee. "Where will you be 20 years from now? We cannot stick our heads in the sand."

Wayne Tanda, general manager of the Los Angeles Department of Transportation, said: "We don't have a long-term vision. The vision that had been developed has essentially been rejected."

Efforts to relieve congestion on the 101 Freeway have had a long, tortured history.

In the last 20 years, more than 20 studies have been done on the freeway. Ideas ranging from a monorail to double-decking all fizzled because of neighborhood or political opposition or a lack of funding.

In the last two years, a Caltrans-led team of planners and consultants spent more than $2 million studying the corridor. The study -- touted as the most comprehensive effort ever on the freeway -- sifted through dozens of ideas ranging from doing nothing to building a rail line.

The $3.4-billion freeway widening proposal that came out of the study, however, quickly came under fire after Caltrans revealed that the project could destroy nearly a thousand residential and business buildings.

Linda Taira, the Caltrans manager in charge of the freeway study, warned Friday that, without significant changes, "the whole system is going to collapse." To fully accommodate population growth and do away with congestion, the 101 Freeway would need seven additional lanes on each side, she has said.

But area residents protested even the less dramatic plan to widen the freeway by two carpool lanes in each direction, by signing petitions and deluging elected officials with calls and e-mails. After a number of officials spoke out against the proposal, Caltrans announced it would shelve that idea indefinitely while pushing forward with other, less-intrusive projects.

The small projects are expected to relieve congestion by only a fraction of what widening the freeway would accomplish.

Even the small projects aren't a sure thing. On Friday, deputies of some Los Angeles City Council members spoke out against some street improvements on the small-projects list because their constituents were opposed.

Their complaints set a few in the audience of about 20 on edge. "There's been neighborhood opposition to each and every [transportation project]," said Brendan Huffman, public policy manager for the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce.

"What we need is leadership in transportation," said Steve Finnegan, a policy specialist for the Automobile Club of Southern California. "There has been a lack of leadership for quite some time."

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