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Ventura Freeway : Commission to Study Bid for Diamond Lane

Times Staff Writer

The Los Angeles County Transportation Commission, which has been silent on the issue, on Friday will consider a controversial “diamond lane” proposal for the Ventura Freeway.

But two key commissioners said Tuesday that they cannot predict how the commission will react to the recently revived plan to limit an eastbound lane on the freeway in the San Fernando Valley to car pools and buses.

The proposed diamond lane, thought to be all but dead, was unexpectedly resuscitated by the state Friday and thrown into the lap of the commission.

Initially, the proposal will be discussed Friday by the commission’s Streets and Highways Committee.

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“I definitely see some merit to the diamond lane proposal,” said Los Angeles City Councilman Mike Woo, who represents Studio City and is a transportation commissioner. “But I don’t know how the full commission feels. We have never taken up the issue in regard to the 101 Freeway.”

‘Decided Long Ago’

“I think the issue was decided long ago, and we should go ahead without a diamond lane,” said Marcia Mednick, a Van Nuys businesswoman who chairs the Streets and Highways Committee. “But I can’t even guess how the commission will react.”

The proposal involves the soon-to-be-built eastbound fifth lane from Topanga Canyon Boulevard to Universal City.

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The new westbound fifth lane along the 15-mile stretch has been designated a general-use lane from the outset and is not in dispute.

Also not affected is a widening project begun in February in which one lane each way is being added to the freeway between Topanga Canyon and Valley Circle boulevards in Woodland Hills.

The state Department of Transportation initially had proposed the restricted lane but backed away nearly two years ago in the face of a letter-writing campaign initiated by West Valley legislators.

Suit Plans Firmed Up

In another development Tuesday, the president of the Santa Monica-based Coalition for Clean Air said the group firmed up plans over the weekend to sue Caltrans to force designation of one of the freeway’s new lanes as a diamond lane.

However, because of recent developments, “we will wait to see what the county does,” Jan Chatten-Brown said.

In May, the coalition filed a notice of intent to sue Caltrans on the issue, saying the federal Clean Air Act requires the county to build 74 miles of diamond lanes, including the proposed Ventura Freeway lane, because the network is included in the region’s 1979 Air Quality Management Plan.

The coalition, which has successfully sued regional agencies on clean air issues in recent years, had been silent since filing the notice of intent to sue, leading to speculation that it was backing away because construction was about to start on the affected Ventura Freeway project. Construction is now scheduled to begin in April or May.

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Committed to Fight

But Chatten-Brown said Tuesday: “We are definitely committed to committing our resources to a court fight on this issue if it’s needed.”

The proposed diamond lane came to the fore Friday in Sacramento when Caltrans officials informed the California Transportation Commission, which controls all state transportation spending, that the cost for widening the 15 miles of freeway had climbed to $37.6 million from an earlier estimate of $23 million.

Don Cross, Caltrans’ Southern California deputy director, said Tuesday that design engineers in recent months have determined that retaining walls and sound walls on the Ventura Freeway near its intersection with the San Diego Freeway would be more complex and costly than expected.

In response to the new cost estimates, state commissioners voted to turn the issue over to the county commission to determine whether federal funds should be sought for the job.

Condition of Aid

Because federal policy so strongly favors diamond lanes, most state and local transportation officials believe that a diamond lane is likely to be required as a condition of federal aid.

Cross said he could not estimate how much it would cost to redesign the project to include a diamond lane, but estimated that the redesign would delay the widening “six months to a year and maybe much longer.”

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The major design change, he said, would be addition of an overpass so that eastbound motorists could be carried over the top of the rest of the eastbound traffic onto the southbound San Diego Freeway.

In Southern California, Caltrans has three diamond lanes in operation, four under construction and more than a dozen others under study.

For the Ventura Freeway, Caltrans engineers estimate that, after several years of use, a diamond lane and four general-use lanes would carry 12,800 people an hour during peak commuting hours, while five general-use lanes would carry 12,000.


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