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Project tackles football traffic

Electronic message signs in the area around USC warn motorists of congestion related to games or other events, as well as accidents.

March 09, 2007|Jean Guccione | Times Staff Writer

The five new changeable message signs around Exposition Park should remind Robert Nubine to take a different route to work when USC's football team is playing at the Coliseum.

The signs, part of an $11-million area traffic relief project, are designed to alert motorists immediately to auto accidents, street detours and major events that might worsen commutes.

"It's a foreshadowing kind of thing," said Nubine, 19, a supervisor at a nearby Starbucks. The signs will let him know to go another way or at least call his boss to say he'll be late.

Even when the signs aren't illuminated, motorists still could notice better traffic flow around the USC campus and adjacent museum complex, an area that city officials concede has lagged behind other sections of Los Angeles in traffic enhancements.

As part of a larger traffic relief project, eight more surveillance cameras have been installed and 176 traffic lights synchronized within the 5.3-mile area. The upgrade is estimated to increase travel speeds up to a third, for example, from 15 mph to 20 mph, while reducing travel times by a quarter.

On Thursday, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa switched on the message board above Vermont Avenue near Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. It read: "Expo Park In Sync!"

"This light-sync project, together with the construction of the Exposition [light-rail] Line, will fundamentally transform the way traffic flows in South Los Angeles," Villaraigosa said at a news conference, as he was surrounded by workers from the city's Department of Transportation.

Similar improvements, including light synchronization and changeable signs, are slated for streets in Mid-Wilshire and around Los Angeles International Airport later this year.

To synchronize all of its 4,300 traffic signals, Los Angeles still needs $130 million, an amount that Villaraigosa and others think they can get from the nearly $20-billion state transportation bond approved by voters in November.

Councilwoman Wendy Greuel, chairwoman of the city's Transportation Committee, called the street timing improvements "one small piece in the much larger puzzle required to get traffic moving in Los Angeles."

She and other city officials are pushing for smaller upgrades, such as installing more left turn signals, in an effort to ease congestion on city streets.

One of the most visible new signs will warn motorists exiting the southbound Harbor Freeway on Hill Street of the traffic conditions for ballgames, concerts and other special events.

Similar signs are at Vermont Avenue and Jefferson Boulevard; Vermont and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard; Hoover Street and Martin Luther King; and Figueroa and 30th streets.

Over the last decade, Los Angeles has installed about 20 changeable message signs in major traffic corridors, beginning with surface streets along the Santa Monica Freeway. They also can be found around Staples Center, on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood and near the Coliseum.

The signs will be illuminated only when problems exist so as not to distract motorists or diminish their significance.

"If there is a message all the time, when you really need motorists to pay attention, they will ignore the message," said Verej Janoyan, a city senior transportation engineer.

Martha Cristerna could have used real-time traffic messages as she drove a bus full of Malibu students to Exposition Park on Thursday morning. They were more than an hour late.

"We need to get the information right then and there," she said, describing the traffic jams she regularly encounters on Vermont Avenue while driving students to the museums.

Cristerna, who lives in Northridge, didn't bat an eye at the $11-million price tag for the project: "It's definitely worth it."

jean.guccione@latimes.com

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