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'Orange Crush' Relief Seen in Freeway Proposal

The 57 would be extended along a river, easing congestion at a three-route junction.

November 15, 2005|David Reyes | Times Staff Writer

County transportation officials voted Monday to move ahead with plans to extend the 57 Freeway southwest along the Santa Ana River to the 405 Freeway.

Extending the 57 is one option being considered to help solve a huge transportation bottleneck known as the Orange Crush, where three freeways merge just south of Angel Stadium.

Although a 57 Freeway extension has been discussed for more than two decades, Monday's 12-4 vote by the board of the Orange County Transportation Authority represents the furthest the proposal has gotten.

The OCTA board voted to hire a consultant to prepare a three-month feasibility study for a double-deck freeway above the river, but it is still a long way from reality. The proposal still faces likely opposition from the Army Corps of Engineers, neighborhoods and proponents of a park along the river.

The board also approved an expansion of Metrolink commuter train service between Fullerton and the station serving Laguna Niguel and Mission Viejo. Phased in beginning next year and finishing in 2009, stations will have more parking, and trains will run every 30 minutes between the two stations from 5 a.m. to midnight on weekdays. The estimated cost for the increase in service, not including operating costs, is $382 million, which will be covered by the Measure M supplemental sales tax and state transportation funds.

Extending the freeway down the Santa Ana River would take commuters 6.5 miles through Santa Ana and Fountain Valley, where it would connect with the 405 Freeway.

An extension has been discussed for years. But past proposals focused on routing a six-lane freeway through neighborhoods and shopping centers in Santa Ana. Such a project was estimated to cost $1.3 billion in the mid-1980s and has been met with unrelenting political opposition ever since.

Plans to build an extension above the river, instead, materialized about the same time, in 1986. One proposal called for building piers thrust into the Santa Ana River to serve as pillars for the freeway.

There also has been talk about building the extension as a tollway, connecting it to the San Joaquin Hills tollway in Costa Mesa.

Any proposal involving a route above the river will involve the Army Corps of Engineers, which has major flood-control jurisdiction over the river. According to a corps spokesman in Los Angeles, any plan for a freeway above a flood control channel has an uphill battle.

"It's not feasible," said Fred-Otto Egeler, a corps spokesman, "because it would impede the flood channel."

OCTA also must consider another factor that might compete with such a plan: Several cities and counties have expressed interest in creating a park along the river.

Supervisor Lou Correa, who has promoted the park idea and sits on the OCTA board, spoke against the freeway extension, saying the agency should first be weighing health effects from such pollutants as smog, especially for more vulnerable Santa Ana residents.

"This idea is to extend a major freeway right through one of the most densely populated cities in the county and one with the youngest population," he said.

Correa voted against proceeding with plans for the extension. He was joined by board members Cathy Green, a Huntington Beach councilwoman; county Supervisor Jim Silva; and Santa Ana Mayor Miguel A. Pulido.

OCTA officials said that health factors would be a major part of the agency's evaluation but that they needed to hire a consultant to determine whether the plan was feasible from an engineering standpoint.

"The river is an environmental treasure, and it needs to be fully appreciated," Pulido said after the meeting. "I don't think this extension is going to be built."

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