A State Plan for 'Smart' Freeways : High-Tech System Would Divert Cars to Surface Streets

Times Staff Writer

With traffic gridlock part of the daily commute on the Westside, Gov. George Deukmejian has proposed spending $4.5 million to launch a high-tech system to relieve congestion along the Santa Monica Freeway corridor.

In his proposed state budget released last week, Deukmejian said that the so-called Smart Corridor Demonstration Project would feature ramp meters, message signs and monitored coordination of traffic signals along parallel routes. In addition, roving tow trucks would clear accidents quickly.

Gene Berthelsen, a spokesman for the state Department of Transportation, noted that the Santa Monica Freeway is already equipped with parts of the system. Now, he said, the governor proposes to expand the technology "so that when the freeway gets jammed up, you can divert traffic" to such major surface streets as Olympic, Pico, Venice and Washington boulevards between the San Diego and Harbor freeways. The project, by the time it is scheduled for completion in 1992, is expected to cost $32 million in local, state and federal funds, Berthelsen said.

The budget request was prompted, in part, by a Los Angeles County Transportation Commission study last year. It detailed the rising cost of building new freeways and called for implementation of the smart corridor.

Last year, Assemblywoman Gwen Moore (D-Los Angeles) introduced a bill to set aside about $4.5 million for the project partly as an alternative to building new freeways. "If the project works in Los Angeles, it will become the prototype for other parts of the state," she declared.

Report to Legislature

Even though Deukmejian has embraced the project, Moore said she plans to push for passage of her bill because it spells out the way the project should be carried out and requires Caltrans to report to the Legislature on the feasibility of similar projects elsewhere. The Assembly last June approved her bill on a 76-0 vote. It is now before the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Rob Schladale, an analyst with the state Department of Finance, noting that the project's goal, is to balance traffic flow between the freeway and surface streets, said that once the system is in effect, "instead of people getting on the freeway when it's not moving, then we can direct them to a parallel street that is moving . . . and move more people through the corridor at the same time."

Transportation planners hope to achieve their goal by installing electronic traffic-surveillance equipment, including pavement detectors and cameras, on surface streets and linking up the system with similar technology on the Santa Monica Freeway. In addition, the system would computerize signals and, through the use of special radio frequencies, electronic message boards or telephone lines, alert motorists to the best routes home and to work.

Deukmejian's $44.3-billion budget includes at least two other appropriations targeted to the Westside:

- Approximately $35 million in building projects at UCLA. The largest appropriation is $32.9 million to add a long-sought wing to 36-year-old Young Hall, the chemistry and biological sciences building on the campus. "The chemistry department is one of the top-ranked (departments) in the nation, and we need to upgrade and add facilities," said Harlan Lebo, a UCLA spokesman. The addition will include classrooms and laboratories.

The governor's proposal also includes $1.8 million for classrooms and offices in the Fowler Museum of Cultural History, which is under construction.

- $618,000 for operations of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, an increase of $17,000 over the current year. However, the governor, as he did last year, failed to add any funds for the agency to buy open space in the mountains.

In the past, the Legislature has regularly added money for the agency to buy parklands when it reviews the budget. "We totally expected this. There are no surprises," said Joseph Edmiston, the conservancy's executive director.

Edmiston said that the lack of funds to acquire land highlights the need for passage of the $776-million parks and wildlife initiative that recently qualified to be on the June ballot. The conservancy would receive nearly $46 million to buy land if the voters pass the bond measure.

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