First Artesia-Harbor Connector Ramp Opens at Last : $48-Million Project Promises Sharp Cut in Traffic Backups

Times Staff Writer

It took congressional intervention, concessions by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the rerouting of 250 million vehicles and almost three years of construction, but the long-awaited interchange between the Artesia and Harbor freeways is near completion and part of it opens today.

One of several new connector ramps that will allow traffic to flow freely between the two freeways for the first time since the Artesia (Route 91) was built more than a decade ago is scheduled to open today. Three other ramps will open within two weeks, officials of the California Department of Transportation said.

The interchange will alleviate peak-hour congestion on the freeways and local streets caused by scores of cars lining up behind traffic signals on Artesia Boulevard, state and local officials said. During some rush hours, motorists have waited as long as 10 minutes to get on or off the freeways, they said.

Caltrans estimates that between 250,000 and 350,000 vehicles pass through the area on the Harbor or Artesia freeways during a typical weekday. Caltrans has dubbed the $48-million project the "Gateway to the South Bay" because of the role it is expected to play in moving traffic between the area and neighboring communities.

Complaints About Safety

Residents and officials from Los Angeles, Gardena and Carson as well as Caltrans engineers have long complained that the lack of an interchange posed serious safety hazards for commuters and nearby residents.

"This cleans up the whole area," said Richard Decker, resident Caltrans engineer in Gardena. "This should really improve the flow."

A fifth ramp that connects the northbound San Diego Freeway (Interstate 405) to the southbound Harbor Freeway (Interstate 110), which was closed to allow Caltrans to enlarge and upgrade the interchange between those two freeways, is scheduled to reopen June 14, the officials said.

That project has included construction of a special ramp for trucks traveling from the northbound San Diego Freeway to the northbound Harbor Freeway as well as additional lanes for passenger cars using the interchange, which lies just south of the new Artesia-Harbor interchange.

Each Affects Other

"The two projects really cannot be separated," Decker said. "What happens on one of them can, and has, affected traffic on the other."

The new interchange connecting the Artesia and Harbor freeways includes the completion of a half-mile "missing link" between them. California 91 now extends 56 miles from Interstate 15 in Riverside to the Harbor Freeway in the strip of Los Angeles that connects downtown to the city's port.

The missing link, which forced thousands of cars to pour onto Artesia Boulevard and other nearby surface streets after the Artesia Freeway was built in the early 1970s, had been left uncompleted because of rising construction costs and the reluctance of state officials to approve money for new freeways during the administration of Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr.

The project later won state approval and also qualified for federal funding after Congress added the Harbor Freeway to the federal interstate system in 1978 at the request of Rep. Glenn Anderson (D-Long Beach). But construction was delayed again when federal funding was cut off by the Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA blocked the money in 1980 by imposing sanctions against the California for its failure to adopt an automobile smog inspection policy.

EPA Won Over

The Los Angeles County Transportation Commission, a regional transportation advisory group, along with a coalition of local leaders eventually persuaded the EPA to exempt the interchange project from its sanctions because of the safety hazard the incomplete Artesia Freeway posed to motorists. Construction on the interchange got under way in September, 1982. The Legislature has since adopted a smog inspection program.

During a ceremony at the site last week, the nearly completed interchange was dedicated as the Edmond J. Russ Freeway Interchange. Russ, a former Gardena mayor who attended the ceremony, headed the transportation commission's Route 91/110 Task Force, which pressed for completion of the freeway. Local officials, including Anderson, credited Russ with keeping the interchange issue alive.

Completion of the interchange at Artesia Boulevard and improvements to the San Diego-Harbor interchange come about 18 months ahead of schedule and about $4 million above what the contractor, Kasler Corp., originally bid for the project. About 92% of the project is being paid for by the federal government, with the remaining money coming from the state.

Caltrans officials said that the swift completion was attributable to the size and experience of the contractor, which has completed many highway and airport contracts throughout the state, and that the extra costs arose because Caltrans underestimated the amount of construction materials required. Kasler will be paid the additional amount.

Few Complaints

While Caltrans estimates that 250 million vehicles were affected by construction at the two interchanges over three years, officials from Gardena, Carson, Los Angeles and Caltrans said few motorists have complained about the rerouting and changed traffic patterns.

Los Angeles City Councilwoman Joan Milke Flores, who represents the area where the Artesia-Harbor interchange has been built, last week lauded Caltrans for completing the project while causing little inconvenience to the public. Caltrans said the project has been one of its smoothest in years.

The connector ramp at Vermont Avenue--which will allow motorists to get on the Artesia Freeway directly from Artesia Boulevard--opens today, but officials said they could not give a specific time. Until now, vehicles have been detoured along 182nd Street and required to get on the Artesia Freeway east of Main Street.

Some Ramps Open

Some ramps in the interchange already are open. The remainder--connecting eastbound Artesia Boulevard with the northbound and southbound Harbor and the northbound Harbor with westbound Artesia Boulevard--will open June 7, Caltrans said.

In addition to the new ramps, the project has included the widening of nine bridges, construction of 16 bridges, widening of the Harbor Freeway between the San Diego Freeway and Redondo Beach Boulevard, and the building of on- and off-ramps at the 190th Street exit.

Officials estimate the project required 27 lane miles of new concrete pavement, 80,000 tons of asphalt concrete, 8.5 million pounds of reinforcing steel and 20 different traffic stages.

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