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Note to Caltrans: Put up electronic signs about 405 closures

June 21, 2013|By Carla Hall
  • A worker carries a sign as officials close down the Moraga Drive ramp to the northbound 405 as construction crews begin their work in the Sepulveda Pass in September.
A worker carries a sign as officials close down the Moraga Drive ramp to the… (Los Angeles Times )

Here is what the collateral damage from the 405 Freeway construction looks like: a room full of tired and frustrated people who live on the Westside but can’t find their way home.  How do you get to the neighborhood east of Sepulveda Boulevard in the hills — if Sepulveda is closed?  How do you know if so many exits on the northbound 405 are closed one night that you might have to go halfway to the San Fernando Valley before you can creep back down to the Westside?

“It’s freeway lottery,” one resident said. “I don’t know what’s open and what’s closed.”

Such were the tales of misery in the Westwood Recreation Center off Sepulveda Boulevard on Thursday night.

This was Metro’s quarterly “look-ahead” community meeting to brief residents on the next steps in the torturous behind-schedule freeway widening project. (There are plenty of other meetings with community groups.  This was just the big “come-one, come-all” affair.) And sharing the misery were the Metro officials who had to answer — or try to answer — some pointed questions from residents whose neighborhoods have become mazes of detoured traffic.

One big problem that ought to be solved: signage about the freeway closures.

“There’s no reason why we can’t have electronic signs every day to guide us,” said Myles Berkowitz, a Brentwood resident.  “We need real-time communications.”

“There are 70 changing closures every day,” said Metro official Kasey Shuda, who had the thankless task of explaining what’s going on.  “We don’t have the ability to go out and make 70 sign changes at night.”

Construction officials instead put up a small nondescript sign that says something like “Ramp closed ahead” — or, as one resident Thursday night more aptly put it — “a ratty orange sign. It’s a joke.”

David Murphy, president of Angelenos Against Gridlock, piped up, “If you could just have a sign after the 10 — ‘Last exit open is…’”  

OK. So here is some advice for Metro and Caltrans which are, more or less, doing this project jointly :

1. Caltrans reps should be at these meetings. They own the freeways.And, at least to hear Metro officials tell it, that signage — or lack of it — is Caltrans’ call.

2. Put up electronic signs in more places on the 405 Freeway that spell out which exit is closed — not "Second ramp ahead — and good luck remembering if that’s the one you need."  Shuda says you’d need a scoreboard-size sign to denote all the closures.Then get one! OK, maybe not.But, as Murphy said, spell out the major closures.Or get more signs.Shuda says a lot of the signs have to be changed by hand.  If that’s Caltrans’ excuse, that’s ridiculous.There are plenty of remotely controlled electronic signs on the freeways.Drivers watch them change before their eyes daily. And if they are more expensive — as was also noted Thursday night — so what? The project costs $1.1 billion.Find some money for more signs.  And if Caltrans has to use the manually adjusted signs, then put some more crew members on that task.

More detailed electronic signage is such a reasonable fix that would bring so many people some welcome information on the spot on this torn-up freeway – and, frankly, buy the project managers some much needed public goodwill.

After the meeting, two smart and affable Metro officials stayed late to chat with residents and answer questions. I had one last one for them: As I headed home through the construction war zone, would I be able to turn west on Wilshire off Sepulveda?Even they weren’t sure. 

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