With work nearly completed on widening the Ventura Freeway in Woodland Hills, highway engineers are pronouncing the combination of detours and stepped-up on-ramp metering as remarkably successful in keeping vehicles moving during the height of construction.
Activity peaked in the last four months as crews tore out and replaced all pavement in the vicinity of Valley Circle Boulevard at the Woodland Hills-Calabasas border.
State Department of Transportation planners had worried that numerous changes in lane configurations to accommodate the demolition and paving crews would aggravate congestion in an area already plagued with long backups.
But traffic flow near the Woodland Hills-Calabasas border improved during recent months, said Larry Hathaway, Caltrans traffic coordinator for the project.
Before the project, eastbound morning traffic sometimes would back up as far as Chesebro Road in Agoura Hills, about five miles.
But the worst backup in recent months was to Las Virgenes Road, about two miles from the construction area, he said. And the easing of congestion occurred despite a 15% increase in traffic over the level measured last fall, Hathaway said.
Hathaway said preliminary figures indicate that the traffic increase, which he speculated was normal for the approach of warm weather, was almost exactly offset by motorists' heavy use of an eastbound bypass route for local destinations.
With increased traffic and bypass users canceling each other out, Hathaway attributed the reduction in eastbound morning congestion to more restrictive metering of eastbound on-ramps at Topanga Canyon Boulevard and Canoga Avenue.
"I think that an analysis of traffic counts will show that the stepped-up metering allowed the traffic downstream from the construction area to speed up, and that that speedup worked its way back to the Valley Circle area," he said.
Anticipating a rush of complaints and queries about construction in the Valley Circle area, Caltrans established a toll-free telephone number, 1-800-CALL VIP.
Caltrans spokesman John Pashdag said that initially the agency was besieged with phone calls, but "lately it's been pretty quiet, which I think reflects the overall lack of complaints about the way things have worked out."
He said the project is "one of the very few where we have gotten letters of praise from freeway users."
Hathaway said that with pavement reconstruction near Valley Circle all but completed, the westbound on-ramps at Topanga and Woodlake Avenue and the westbound off-ramp at Valley Circle will be reopened to traffic late Thursday night.
The Valley Circle repaving is the final phase of a 16-month, $23-million project to widen the freeway from four lanes each way between Topanga Canyon and Valley Circle and to add a fifth westbound lane from Wilbur Avenue to Topanga Canyon.
Because of delays permitted under the contract, Tutor-Saliba Corp., the contractor, does not expect to complete the project until August or September.