Traffic congestion along a span of the San Diego Freeway that for years has frustrated thousands of rush-hour commuters could ease under a plan expected to be approved by state officials this week.
The California Transportation Commission will vote Thursday on whether to allocate $10 million to re-stripe the South Bay Curve, an 11-mile stretch of Interstate 405 from the Marina Freeway on the north to Artesia Boulevard on the south.
The re-striping, which would be included in the commission's five-year list of state highway and transit projects, would add another lane in each direction to the eight-lane stretch by utilizing a portion of the median strip and slightly shrinking the size of existing lanes.
Construction, which would be done at night so commuter traffic is not disrupted, would start in 1988, provided state officials gain environmental approval from the federal government.
'Bang for the Buck'
"We feel we can get a lot of bang for the buck from this project," said Jim Sims, director of programming and fiscal analysis for the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission, which supports the project. "There are very few freeway improvements you can make these days that aren't very expensive, and $10 million is relatively inexpensive."
For years, commuters have been frustrated by giant traffic jams along the South Bay Curve. Besides too many cars fighting for too little space, traffic planners have said, a good deal of the curve's congestion woes can be attributed to the number of cloverleafs and on-ramps that have been built along the freeway to handle the increase in traffic volume over the years.
Several motorists have said it has taken them an hour to travel the 12 miles from Torrance north to the Santa Monica Freeway interchange during the morning rush hour. Some afternoon commuters, traveling in the opposite direction, have said the stop-and-go nightmare that begins along the curve in El Segundo does not disappear until Long Beach.
The re-striping project was included on the commission's list after intense lobbying by the El Segundo Employers Assn., a group of 22 South Bay businesses formed in 1981 to tackle mounting traffic problems in the area. Together, the companies employ an estimated 51,000 people, many of whom are left fuming and fussing each day as they try to maneuver to and from work along the clogged stretch of freeway.
While the county transportation commission, as well as the Southern California Assn. of Governments (SCAG), has steadfastedly favored the project, the state Department of Transportation had initially proposed that the project be studied for another year.
However, Caltrans dropped its opposition to the re-striping plan after it became apparent that money for the project would become available as a result of a complex swap of funds involving Los Angeles, Orange and San Diego counties, said Allan Hendrix, a deputy district director for Caltrans in Los Angeles.
In addition, Caltrans officials said, the agency received numerous letters from government and business leaders supporting the project. Top executives from Hughes Aircraft Co., Northrop Corp., Rockwell International Corp. and TRW Inc. last month wrote a letter to Caltrans officials recommending that the project be included on the California Transportation Commission's list.
"There was a tremendous letter-writing campaign instigated by the employers association," said Ed Nahabedian, a Caltrans traffic engineer. "We had something like 60 requests for this project from politicians and managers of big companies. They all wanted the project and as a result we felt that maybe we could do something faster."
Car and Van Pools
Donald Camph, executive director of the employers association, said that despite the car- and van-pooling programs that have been instituted in recent years by some large South Bay firms, the group believed freeway capacity itself needed to be increased.
"At some point in time, we felt there was going to have to be some basic infrastructure improvements," Camph said. "There is just a limit as to what you can do with car pooling and other programs. And the South Bay Curve is a tremendous mess."
Nahabedian said that congestion along the San Diego Freeway and the curve has been a problem ever since the freeway was completed more than 20 years ago. The freeway is a major north-south artery from San Diego County all the way north to the San Fernando Valley where it intersects with Interstate 5, the Golden State Freeway.
Surveys by Caltrans indicate that more than 265,000 cars travel the South Bay Curve in both directions every day, making it one of the three most heavily traveled sections of freeway in Los Angeles County, Nahabedian said. The number of cars has increased more than 14% in the five years, and is expected to continue to escalate as commercial growth in the South Bay continues, he said.
All-Day Traffic Jam
Indeed, Nahabedian and other traffic engineers have predicted that if present growth trends in the region continue into the next decade, the South Bay Curve could experience rush hour-style traffic jams all day long unless the freeway's capacity is expanded greatly.
Nevertheless, some planners said the addition of just a fifth lane along the South Bay Curve could help in the short term. Pam Sapetto, a SCAG manager, said the agency supports the re-striping plan because it could improve traffic flow to and from Los Angeles International Airport.
SCAG also favors the proposal because a re-striping project completed last summer along a three-mile stretch of the San Diego Freeway between the Marina Freeway and the Santa Monica freeway was successful in decreasing congestion, Sapetto said.
Nahabedian said that project, coupled with another re-striping project completed six years ago along the northbound lanes of the San Diego Freeway between the Santa Monica and Ventura freeways, has increased the average motorist's speed during peak traffic periods from 15 to 40 miles per hour. Peak traffic periods are generally considered to run from 6 to 10 a.m. and 2 to 6 p.m.
However, if the South Bay Curve re-striping project becomes a reality, motorist's speeds are not likely to increase because traffic volume along the freeway stretch will probably have increased by the time work is completed, he said.
Nahabedian added that speeds along the freeway have increased since last summer when Caltrans officials readjusted on-ramp signal meters. The meters now allow one car to enter the freeway every eight seconds instead of every six. That adjustment is believed responsible for increasing speeds along the curve from 18 m.p.h. to the present level of 25 to 30 m.p.h., he said.
Caltrans officials said they have not decided if the additional lane along the curve would be confined to buses, vans and car poolers, or opened up to all motorists.