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Traffic complaints from La Cañada residents and city officials spurs response from Caltrans

Unexpected construction delays on the Foothill (210) Freeway near La Crescenta and the resultant spilling of commuter traffic onto Foothill and Verdugo boulevards has recently raised the ire of local residents and elected officials, who've turned to Caltrans for answers.

State Sen. Anthony Portantino said he reached out directly to the Caltrans District 7 Director Carrie Bowen on Jan. 28, after receiving numerous complaints from residents about closed lanes and ramps, difficult merging scenarios, barely visible traffic signs and logjams on local connector streets.

In response, the agency installed additional message signs and clearer striping, reduced speed limits and requested an increased presence by the California Highway Patrol during daytime hours.

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"They have been brought on notice, and they're making tremendous efforts to hear concerns as they facilitate the construction," Portantino said in an interview Monday. He encourages residents to continue lodging specific complaints on social media sites.

The state lawmaker was not the only official to speak up on the matter. On Tuesday, Caltrans representative appeared before the La Cañada Flintridge City Council at the request of Mayor Jon Curtis, who referred to the city's current traffic situation as "a disaster" and a "health and safety issue."

Caltrans project manager Reza Fateh provided an overview of the three-year project, designed to improve and enhance the segment of the 210 from Dunsmore Avenue in Glendale to Los Robles Avenue in Pasadena.

According to Fateh, the project will cost between $142 million and $143 million. He said lanes 3 and 4 will be completely replaced, while lanes 1 and 2 are repaired as needed. New reflective freeway signs are to be installed, in addition to LED lighting and a high-friction surfacing in three tunnels at the juncture of the 210 and 134 freeways. The work is expected to continue until summer 2018.

While construction has been ongoing for some time, it wasn't until recent rain delays caused the overlapping of two construction phases that traffic conditions took a turn for the worse, the engineer explained.

Faced with the closure of La Crescenta's Pennsylvania Avenue eastbound ramps — and a full lane closure in the westbound direction from Ocean View Boulevard to Lowell Avenue that reduces the I-210 westbound's total capacity by 20% — untold numbers of commuters are taking to La Cañada's surface streets in search of bypass routes.

Possibly instructed by traffic-rerouting cellphone apps such as Waze, cars headed northbound on the Glendale (2) Freeway are attempting to avoid congestion on the I-210 by exiting at Foothill Boulevard and heading west toward La Crescenta.

Eastbound drivers, seeing the Pennsylvania Avenue closures, are exiting onto Ocean View in an attempt to reach La Crescenta via Foothill Boulevard. In doing so, they directly confront westbound Foothill traffic where the two roads meet.

"What happened recently was kind of unintended. The eastbound work should have been finally completed before they started work on the westbound side," Fateh said, estimating the westbound lane closure reduced total capacity on the 210 west of the 2 Freeway by about 20%.

That particular problem, Fateh added, should naturally correct itself when Pennsylvania ramps reopen by Feb. 23. At that time, Caltrans will close the La Crescenta Avenue on-ramp through spring.

At Tuesday's City Council meeting, La Cañada residents and council members alike searched for solutions to a problem affecting their quality of life. Hampstead Road resident Janice Davolio said the traffic has kept her family from making necessary in-town trips.

"We can't do any business in our community," she said. "We don't feel safe in our community, can't drive in our community. And the traffic just keeps getting worse."

Curtis said he learned during a recent visit to the Crescenta-Cañada YMCA's Youth in Government program that many kids have stopped attending meetings, simply because they cannot get to the facility.

"We'd love to work closely with you to see if we can solve this," the mayor told Caltrans officials, suggesting city staff make a list of locally observed issues to give the agency.

Fateh, in turn, said his team would explore traffic signal optimization at the juncture of Foothill and the 2 Freeway, and look into installing freeway signs discouraging commuters from exiting onto Foothill Boulevard and suggesting they avoid the Glendale Freeway altogether by taking the 134 to the 5 Freeway instead.

Caltrans representatives will deliver another presentation on the project and its progress in an upcoming meeting of the Crescenta Valley Town Council, scheduled to take place at 7 p.m. on Feb. 16 at the La Crescenta Library, 2809 Foothill Blvd., in La Crescenta.

For additional information, or to report observed conditions, contact Caltrans Public Information Officer Karina Vargas at (213) 897-7602 or karina.vargas@dot.ca.gov. For real-time traffic information, visit quickmap.dot.ca.gov.

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Sara Cardine, sara.cardine@latimes.com

Twitter: @SaraCardine

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