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County Plan for Diamond Lanes Omits Valley Roads

Times Staff Writer

The San Fernando Valley’s freeways were conspicuously absent from a proposed network of 12 “diamond lanes” unveiled Friday by the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission.

While all other areas of the county have been earmarked for the car-pool lanes, commission staff members said that Valley freeways were passed over for a variety of reasons--expected community opposition, lack of sufficient congestion and engineering problems.

Ironically, the commission staff released its proposed network of restricted lanes shortly after state transportation officials revived the controversial question of placing a diamond lane on the Ventura Freeway and sent the issue back to the commission.

On Friday, the commission’s Streets and Highways Committee put off for one month discussion of how to respond to the state’s challenge regarding the Ventura Freeway.

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The California Transportation Commission, alarmed at rising cost estimates for the freeway’s widening, eight days ago voted to let the county commission decide whether federal aid should be sought.

Policy Favors Lanes

Because federal administrators so strongly favor diamond lanes, many transportation experts think that federal participation is likely to lead to designation of a car-pool lane.

At issue is whether to permit only buses and vehicles with more than one occupant to use the freeway’s soon-to-be-built eastbound fifth lane between Topanga Canyon Boulevard and Universal City. Work on that lane is tentatively scheduled to begin the middle of next year.

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The state Department of Transportation initially proposed that the 15-mile stretch be a diamond lane, which drew support from some Valley groups and many Valley elected officials.

But Caltrans backed away in the face of a letter-writing campaign initiated by a handful of West Valley legislators.

Not affected by the diamond lane proposal are the proposed westbound fifth lane along the same 15-mile stretch and lanes being built west of Topanga Canyon Boulevard in the project already under way.

While postponing action on the Ventura Freeway until documents are received from the state, the three-member committee Friday approved the countywide network as drafted by its staff.

The plan, to be used by commissioners in allocating highway funds over the next 12 years, is expected to be considered by the full commission Oct. 26.

Ginger Gherardi, the commission’s highway manager, said the plan “is not set in concrete. We view this as a first draft and will wait for reaction from the public.”

In the plan, the staff said it was not recommending a diamond lane for the Golden State Freeway in the Valley because it is not congested in all areas and because a car-pool lane on the freeway would not be connected to any other diamond lane.

While the Hollywood Freeway is congested enough from its intersection with the Golden State to downtown, a diamond lane is not recommended because of “narrow medians, likely community opposition,” the report says.

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Narrow Median

Similarly, the San Diego Freeway from West Los Angeles through the Valley has sufficient congestion to justify a diamond lane, the report states, but the freeway’s narrow median would “make it very expensive to build a car-pool lane over Sepulveda Pass.”

The Simi Valley Freeway is not recommended for a restricted lane “due to lack of connectivity and likely community opposition.”

Both the state and county transportation commissions have enacted policies in recent years declaring that car-pool lanes are an important tool for expanding freeway capacity at a time when money for new freeways is scarce.

Critics say the lanes are unfair to those who travel at irregular times and must travel alone, and are unproved as a device for inducing motorists to form car pools or ride buses.


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