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Michael A. Barbour: The roadie

Overseeing the widening of the 405 Freeway is only the latest challenge for Metro's Mike Barbour.

February 06, 2010|Patt Morrison

But our objective is to build a trust with them so that they believe that when we say something, we're going to follow through. We're not trying to hide something. You're looking for the person who's just saying, "I'm just an average person, I live in this area, and these are my concerns."

They know you may not be able to help them, but they want their concerns heard.

The Mulholland bridge [over the 405] is a great example. A lot of folks there do not want a big significant icon [built] there, whereas somebody just driving through might actually want it. The community is looking for something more modest, that kind of fits with their somewhat rural area.

Does aesthetics matter?

It always matters to me. I come from a background of bridge design, so I try to build things that are aesthetic and blend in; but as an engineer, you're really focused on the cost, how efficient it's going to be. I believe that there's always a right bridge for a right site. And what's acceptable to the community? What do they want to see? I've built some nice bridges, so I feel that's my objective, but sometimes a lot of freeway stuff is more functional than aesthetic.

Do you go to the ribbon-cuttings on your projects?

I get invited; I don't go. I went to one, Carquinez. I got a [commemorative] shovel. I actually use it in my backyard. I broke it a couple of years ago.

Is the 405 Freeway the busiest in these parts?

Definitely. The problem is, the congestion starts early and ends late. The HOV [lane] on the 405 -- it [will] connect the San Fernando Valley to Orange County -- so it is going to help you on either end of the commute. Maybe you can leave later in the morning or later in the afternoon. We hope that people will start using the HOV lanes across L.A., not just here.

Any secret routes you've figured out to downtown?

I use Rodeo to get across; I go down La Cienega. The funny part is, every time I drive with somebody from Metro or Caltrans, they have their own way too. I've tried 'em all. At the end of the day, when it's busy out there, you can shave a few minutes off your commute but you're not making a huge impact. I think the biggest thing is to just keep going, to feel like you're actually moving, instead of a freeway.

This interview was edited and excerpted from a longer taped transcript. An archive of Morrison's published interviews is online at

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