A project designed to ease congestion on the Santa Ana Freeway in northern Orange County has officials worried about a massive traffic jam at the Los Angeles County line where the freeway will narrow from a total of 10 lanes to six.
The $314-million project, begun in June, will expand the freeway from three to five lanes in each direction along a 2-mile stretch in Buena Park -- 10 years before a similar widening of Interstate 5 is expected to be finished in Los Angeles County.
"All they're doing is creating a new bottleneck," said Assemblyman Rudy Bermudez (D-Norwalk), who has been a critic of the Orange County widening. "It looks as if they want to move the Orange Crush north, where it will be known as the L.A. Crush."
What is needed, Bermudez said, is better regional planning to avoid creating chokepoints similar to the Orange Crush -- where the Orange, Garden Grove and Santa Ana freeways meet just south of Angel Stadium in Anaheim.
The new project demonstrates what can happen when one county's transportation priorities don't mesh with its neighbor's, Bermudez and other elected officials said.
The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority's plans to widen the Santa Ana Freeway have been delayed by a lack of funding and by other priorities, MTA officials said, including improving the Long Beach Freeway and completing its extension at Valley Boulevard in Alhambra, and adding carpool lanes to the San Diego Freeway.
The MTA has also had other projects, such as completing a subway line from downtown Los Angeles to the San Fernando Valley, constructing three light-rail lines and upgrading its bus system.
"Obviously, we have different challenges," MTA Chief Executive Roger Snoble said.
In 2010, when the concrete is drying on the Santa Ana Freeway in Orange County, the jackhammers are set to begin work across the county line to widen the highway from La Mirada to the San Gabriel River Freeway. That expansion through La Mirada, Norwalk, Santa Fe Springs and Downey is scheduled to be completed in 2016.
The plans are to match Orange County's 10 lanes, Snoble said, with the possibility of adding two more.
The MTA recently received state funds for future work with Orange County transportation planners to avoid similar scenarios.
The situation highlights a major shift over the past decade from state to local control of road funds.
In 1997, state transportation agencies lost much of their power when a landmark law gave counties the authority to set their own priorities with 75% of state transportation money. Counties, especially those with a network of freeways, also used money from voter-approved tax measures to take greater charge of their own planning.
In 1990, Orange County voters passed Measure M, a half-cent-on-the-dollar sales tax, which is expected to generate $4.2 billion for transportation projects by the time it expires in 2011. The measure is up for renewal in November.
One of the initiative's campaign issues was to use the money to widen the Santa Ana Freeway through Orange County, said Art Brown, chairman of the Orange County Transportation Authority. "We promised the taxpayers that we would have it done by 2011, and we have to fulfill that promise," Brown said. "Los Angeles County is the one that has had delays."
Meanwhile, Orange County has considered erecting a sign to welcome motorists at the Los Angeles County line.
Brown suggested in jest: "Welcome to Better Roads."
But that didn't top Buena Park Councilwoman Patsy Marshall's "Aren't You Sorry You Didn't Do This?"
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFBOX)
Q & A
Question: What will be widened on the Santa Ana Freeway?
Answer: The freeway will be expanded from three to five lanes in each direction from the Riverside Freeway in Buena Park, north two miles to the Los Angeles County line.
Q: What will it cost, when will it be done and who pays for it?
A: The project is estimated at $314 million. Of that amount, $178 million will come from Orange County's Measure M funds, a half-cent-on-the-dollar sales tax. The rest is from state and federal revenue. It is scheduled to be done in mid-2010.
Q: Why isn't L.A. County simultaneously widening its portion of the Santa Ana Freeway?
A: Los Angeles County had other priorities. Also, Santa Ana Freeway improvements were part of the Measure M package that voters approved in 1990.
Q: What will it do to traffic at the county line?
A: For southbound commuters, congestion will ease as the freeway expands from three to five lanes near Artesia Boulevard in La Mirada. But for northbound commuters, a major bottleneck will occur as the freeway narrows from five to three lanes.
Source: Times reporting
Los Angeles Times