Caltrans officials on Friday projected that a segment of the Ventura Freeway improvement and widening project will cost $40 million, up $20 million from its original estimate, which could revive a controversial plan to designate a car-pool lane on the thoroughfare.
Bob Remen, spokesman for the state Department of Transportation, said federal funds may be needed to complete the project. But he said federal policy forbids such funds from being used unless one of the lanes is restricted for car pools and buses.
Caltrans had initially proposed a “diamond lane” for a portion of the Ventura Freeway widening project scheduled to begin early next year.
But the proposal was dropped when it met opposition from homeowner organizations and elected officials, who argued that such special lanes cause accidents and are unfair to those who travel at varying times and cannot form car pools.
The new projection comes from a California Transportation Commission cost study, Remen said. The commission, a Caltrans advisory group, says the freeway widening project, originally estimated to cost about $20 million, will now cost an extra $20 million.
Because of the cost overrun, the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission will have to decide whether a car-pool lane is warranted, Remen said.
But David Roper, Caltrans’ deputy district director, said Friday that county transportation officials “have already decided to forgo federal funding on this project.”
Roper said a car-pool lane on the Ventura Freeway was “absolutely intolerable. The people in this region have spoken very clearly on this matter.”
In 1987, Caltrans dropped the proposal of a diamond lane in favor of a general-use lane after opponents swamped the agency with more than 12,000 protest letters.
“It’s totally unacceptable,” Assemblyman Tom McClintock (R-Thousand Oaks) said of the possibility of a restricted lane on the freeway.
“This would adversely affect the public’s ability to use the new lane. These bureaucrats have to understand they cannot impose this kind of monstrosity on an unwilling public. We will fight it every step of the way.”
“I have already informed the governor that this is an outrageous breach of faith” by the state, McClintock said, adding that he will initiate a letter-writing campaign.
There are three diamond lanes in operation in Southern California, and Caltrans is studying whether to add them to more than a dozen other freeways in the region.
Highway planners maintain that restricted lanes encourage commuters to use ride-sharing programs, decreasing the number of vehicles on freeways.