Work began Wednesday on almost $500 million in improvements to the heavily congested Garden Grove Freeway, which has not been substantially upgraded or widened since it opened 37 years ago.
The Orange County Transportation Authority wants to remake a 12-mile stretch of the freeway, from its eastern end, at the Costa Mesa Freeway, to Valley View Street near its junction with the San Diego Freeway.
Among the improvements are two new carpool lanes, two auxiliary lanes between the Santa Ana Freeway and Beach Boulevard, and elevation of the connector with the Orange Freeway at the City Drive to eliminate the chronic lane jostling at the interchange. Sound walls, new on- and offramps, and related street improvements are planned.
Motorists make more than 350,000 trips a day on the Garden Grove Freeway, often reducing traffic to stop-and-go speed. One of the most congested spots is the notorious "Orange Crush" interchange with the Orange and Santa Ana freeways.
"We're doing our best to keep Orange County moving," said OCTA board Chairman Gregory T. Winterbottom. "We lost a lot of state funding waiting for this project, but we've managed to advance our own money to get it started."
Because of a massive budget deficit, the state held up more than $170 million in transportation funds that had been earmarked for the Garden Grove Freeway. About $44 million in state funding was returned to the project this year. OCTA plans to make up the balance with $126 million from Measure M, the county's half-cent sales tax for transportation projects.
Construction began during a ceremonial groundbreaking at the Block shopping center off the Garden Grove Freeway in Orange. More than 200 municipal, county, state and federal officials attended the event, including state Sen. Joe Dunn (D-Santa Ana), and Assemblymen Lou Correa (D-Anaheim), Ken Maddox (R-Garden Grove) and Todd Spitzer (R-Orange).
"The state has abdicated its responsibility for transportation projects in favor of other priorities," said Spitzer, a former Orange County supervisor and OCTA board chairman. Getting started on the Garden Grove Freeway project "is a huge accomplishment," he said.
At an estimated cost of $490 million, improving the freeway is the largest highway project undertaken by OCTA. The cost includes buying two houses and portions of several businesses along the route. Other businesses will be moved temporarily.
Planners say the project will take until the end of 2006 -- about 800 work days -- far faster than an original plan by state transportation officials that had set 2011 as the completion date.
Funding will come from $203 million in Measure M revenue, $101 million in federal funds and $56 million from the state.
An additional $11 million will come from local cities. The remaining $119 million will come from local sales taxes or supplemental state funding that could become available after the November election.