Long Beach City Staff Says 405 Freeway Plan Would Cause ‘Bottleneck’
Alternatives Include Adding General-Purpose Lanes And Possible Toll Lane
By Sean Belk - Staff Writer
July 31, 2012 – An effort to solve one traffic jam along a heavily used 14-mile stretch of the San Diego (I-405) Freeway in Orange County will inadvertently cause another one along the same freeway in the City of Long Beach, claim city officials.
After nearly four years of planning, the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) and the Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA) are moving forward with options to widen a section of the 405 Freeway between the Corona del Mar (SR-73) Freeway at Euclid Street and the San Gabriel River (I-605) Freeway interchange. The project, funded by Measure M that was passed by voters in 2006, seeks to alleviate traffic congestion, improve travel conditions and enhance road safety to meet state and federal standards along the 405 Freeway, where sections are traveled by some 300,000 vehicles per day, according to OCTA’s Web site.
Caltrans and OCTA released an environmental impact report and statement (EIR/EIS) on the project in May, addressing the potential impacts of three proposed alternatives: adding one general-purpose lane in each direction; adding two general-purpose lanes in each direction; or adding one general-purpose lane in each direction with an additional toll lane added to the existing carpool lane.
Long Beach city officials, however, said any version of the plan would still cause a “bottleneck” along the freeway in Long Beach because the wider corridor would abruptly end as vehicles enter city limits. Further, city officials say the impact to Long Beach was not properly analyzed and planners failed to coordinate with Caltrans District 7, which oversees Los Angeles County, and the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Agency.
“We’re talking about lane expansions, toll roads . . . just a really, really big freeway that’s going to meet up with a much smaller freeway, which in my mind is going to have some negative consequences,” said Long Beach City Councilmember Patrick O’Donnell during a July 3 city council meeting. “Long Beach needs to act to protect itself and protect other cities in the region.”
A letter by Mike Conway, Long Beach director of public works, submitted to Caltrans District 12 on July 17, called the EIR/EIS on the project “inadequate,” stating that the report failed to include requests made by city staff back in 2009. Those requests included extending the study area west to include the section of the 405 Freeway that’s in Long Beach, including off- and on-ramps from Lakewood Boulevard to the 605 Freeway interchange, including Bellflower Boulevard, Woodruff Avenue and Palo Verde Avenue.
Also, city staff said the project might impact the West County Connectors Project, a massive undertaking to improve carpool lanes and freeway infrastructure along much of the same freeways, including the recent rebuild of the 7th Street bridge.
Long Beach city staff adds that the 405 Freeway widening project would fail to keep outflow traffic from disrupting streets during construction and may cause traffic to be diverted to other freeways and arterial streets, including Carson Street, off the 605 Freeway, and the CA-22 Freeway.
Long Beach’s concerns have been echoed by other impacted cities, including Seal Beach and Westminster. OCTA extended its public comment period deadline to July 17 to give residents and city officials more time to submit letters.
Adolfo Ozaeta, traffic engineer for the City of Westminster, wouldn’t elaborate on the city’s position, but said cities along the I-405 corridor in North Orange County will soon address the matter through a joint press release.
Although OCTA and Caltrans staff recently met with Long Beach city planners to hear the city’s concerns, O’Donnell, a boardmember of the Gateway Cities Council of Governments, said it was late in the game to be included in the planning process.
“I just want to highlight how late this is for them to start meeting with us,” he said. “They’ve got an EIR that’s out there and now they want to fix the problems they have . . . It’s a little late.”
Joel Zlotnik, spokesperson for the OCTA, however, told the Business Journal that the agencies are working with area cities with a goal to “minimize” any impacts of the project. He said so far there have been 1,200 comments received and individual concerns will be addressed during the environmental review process. Zlotnik said the OCTA board of directors is scheduled to select one of the alternatives in September.
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