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The Big Squeeze : Freeway Project Enters Its Most Difficult Phase

Times Staff Writer

For Ventura Freeway motorists lulled into complacency by a year of nearly gridlock-free freeway construction in the west San Fernando Valley, the real test is about to begin.

On Monday, state Department of Transportation crews will open two freeway bypass routes in Woodland Hills, signaling the start of what is potentially the most disruptive phase of the 16-month widening project.

Over the next four months, all freeway pavement in the vicinity of Valley Circle Boulevard at the Woodland Hills-Calabasas border will be torn out and replaced.

And while the demolition and repaving is under way, all six lanes of the freeway will be squeezed together on one side of the median for two months, and then on the other side for the remaining two months.

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‘Gridlock Out There’

“Everyone here thinks it’s going to be gridlock out there,” said Tony Thiessen, a clerk at Calabasas Municipal Court, which overlooks the freeway at Parkway Calabasas. He commutes daily from Van Nuys and expects to “spend a lot more time on the road.”

But Larry Hathaway, Caltrans traffic coordinator for the project, thinks that the bypass routes along with other measures “make it quite possible that freeway conditions will be better than they are now once work begins.”

To offset the anticipated slowing effect of compressing six lanes into space designed for three, Caltrans hopes to lure motorists bound for Warner Center and the eastern portion of Calabasas off the freeway and onto the detours.

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If enough motorists take the alternative routes, the flow of rush-hour traffic on the freeway should be about what it is now or even less, Hathaway said.

The bypass routes are voluntary and they’re not for everyone, Caltrans officials emphasize; through traffic should stay on the freeway.

And if the bypasses work as anticipated, the 80% of freeway motorists who are merely passing through Woodland Hills will barely notice this phase of construction, officials say.

Because there will be no room on the compressed freeway for breakdowns, Caltrans has hired three tow trucks to stand by to remove stalled vehicles.

Three video cameras installed along the freeway will alert officials to the need for the trucks. Changeable message signs and a low-power radio station broadcasting at 1610 AM will keep motorists informed of alternative routes.

Further, even when all the lanes are compressed on one side of the freeway, there will be the standard concrete barrier between eastbound and westbound traffic.

For those bound for Warner Center or Calabasas, prospects are a bit more clouded.

Along the two-mile stretch from Topanga Canyon Boulevard to Parkway Calabasas, five freeway ramps will be closed during the four months.

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For some who normally use the ramps, the bypass routes will be a necessity, not an option.

Ramps to be closed are the westbound on-ramp at Topanga, the westbound off-ramp at Parkway Calabasas, the westbound and eastbound off-ramps at Valley Circle, and the eastbound off-ramp at Fallbrook Avenue.

The closures will force those bound for Calabasas Municipal Court and adjacent businesses to cross the freeway twice while following bypass routes that Caltrans admits are a bit convoluted.

To hurry motorists along, more than a dozen traffic officers will be posted along the detours.

Ron Palmer, Litton Industries spokesman in Warner Center, worries about what will happen once the westbound on-ramp at Topanga is closed.

Litton has a 3,000-employee plant on Burbank Boulevard, and Palmer says the ramp closing will be the “critical test for us because we have 650 employees who live west of Woodland Hills, most of whom normally would use that ramp.”

Caltrans has distributed detour maps to employers throughout the area but has found no direct way to inform residents who don’t work in the area, Hathaway said.

“I’ve heard there will be a bypass route so friends can visit us,” said George Vane, who recently retired with his wife, Barbara, to a Calabasas home.

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“But right now, I haven’t the foggiest idea how they are going to get out from the Valley to visit us.”

The four-month phase is the last part of the $23-million project to widen the freeway in Woodland Hills.

The project includes re-striping to widen the roadway to four lanes each way between Topanga Canyon and Valley Circle boulevards. West of Valley Circle, the freeway already is four lanes to the Conejo Grade.

Also included in the project is widening the roadway to five lanes westbound from White Oak Avenue to Topanga Canyon Boulevard.

In August or September, Caltrans hopes to award a contract to widen to five lanes each way all remaining portions of the freeway from Universal City to Topanga.

But the $41 million that the project is expected to cost must still be approved by the California Transportation Commission, which in October balked when informed that Caltrans had designed the widening without a controversial diamond lane, restricted to car pools and buses.

OPTIONAL DETOURS

During the four-month reconstruction of the Ventura Freeway near Valley Circle Boulevard in Woodland Hills, the following bypass routes will be available for traffic headed to and from Warner Center and the eastern portion of Calabasas. For through traffic, three lanes of the freeway will remain open in each direction. Motorists not starting or ending their trips in the construction zone are encouraged to stay on the freeway.

TO WARNER CENTER

Motorists from Las Virgenes and the Conejo Valley headed for Warner Center and points north are encouraged to leave the freeway at Parkway Calabasas, cross over the freeway, then head east on a newly constructed frontage road along the north side of the freeway. The bypass route leads directly to Leonora Drive and Ventura Boulevard, which also parallel the freeway on the north. Warner Center-bound motorists should take either Fallbrook or Shoup avenues north, then head east on Burbank Boulevard toward Warner Center.

FROM WARNER CENTER

The the westbound on-ramp at Topanga Canyon Boulevard is closed for four months. Westbound motorists leaving Warner Center are urged to take Burbank Boulevard west to Shoup or Fallbrook, then head south to enter the freeway.

EASTBOUND TO CALABASAS

Traffic from Las Virgenes and the Conejo Valley destined for Calabasas areas south of the freeway must leave the freeway at a new off-ramp half a mile west of Parkway Calabasas, then head east on Calabasas Road. No right turns will be permitted at the Parkway Calabasas off-ramp. Eastbound motorists headed for businesses north of the freeway are encouraged to exit at Parkway Calabasas, then cross over the freeway in normal fashion.

WESTBOUND TO CALABASAS

Motorists from the San Fernando Valley bound for Calabasas must exit the freeway at Shoup or Woodlake avenues because the Parkway Calabasas and Valley Circle off-ramps will be closed for four months. Those headed for areas south of the freeway will be directed to cross over the freeway at Valley Circle, then head west on Calabasas Road to Park Granada Boulevard. Those bound for the commercial area north of the freeway at Parkway Calabasas must continue west on Calabasas Road, then cross the freeway on Parkway Calabasas.

Source: California Department of Transportation


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