After years of planning and funding delays, Ventura County transportation officials Thursday formally marked the opening of traffic lanes that expand the frequently congested California 23 from four to six lanes.
Although the lanes have been in use for a month, the unveiling symbolically marked the final stretch of the $65-million highway improvement project for the 7 1/2 -mile leg that extends from Hillcrest Drive in Thousand Oaks north to the bridge near New Los Angeles Avenue in Moorpark.
California 23 now has an additional lane in each direction in the median, wider bridges, and new sound walls expected to significantly reduce vehicle noise in adjacent neighborhoods, officials said. Cables have been installed underneath the pavement to provide real-time traffic data to the California Department of Transportation.
Traffic on California 23, which connects the Ventura and Ronald Reagan freeways, has grown from an average of 87,000 daily vehicle trips in 1995 to more than 99,000 today, according to Caltrans. The freeway's expansion will help handle a projected 35% increase in traffic over the next 25 years, officials said.
Construction started in June 2006 and is expected to be completed by June, nearly 14 months ahead of the scheduled opening in fall 2009.
"Basically, what allowed the quick finish was that the sound walls, which normally would have been built at night, were able to be built in the daytime," said Judy Gish, a Caltrans spokeswoman.
"So we were able to keep the lanes open, and that allowed the work to proceed as traffic went by."
Finishing touches that remain to be done include the installation of an electronic message board on the southbound lanes near the Olsen Road onramp, officials said. The board will include incident information, weather advisories and "Amber alerts."
Also, landscaping the freeway expansion with oak trees will begin in a few weeks, Gish said.
Transportation planners first noticed an increase in California 23 traffic 17 years ago and began designing an expansion in 1996, officials said. But state budget woes prompted legislators to divert gas tax money to other transportation programs, stalling plans.
The project, paid for with a combination of state and federal transportation money, finally got the green light in August 2005 when the state Transportation Commission approved $48.3 million for construction.