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Caltrans to Create Needed 2nd Lane on Newport Blvd.

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

Dear Street Smart:

Commuting from the Newport Peninsula to south Santa Ana and back every day is hardly fun with this one-lane business along Newport Boulevard because of the Costa Mesa Freeway construction. In the morning I’m northbound and it’s no problem. But southbound in the evening is another story.

All is well until you come to about Bay Street or Victoria Street, then traffic backs up. It takes about 10 minutes to get from Bay to 19th Street, where there is a signal. This is where the problem is. Assuming it will be with us for another three to six months, here’s a way to fix it in the meantime:

Increase the green light time southbound on Newport.

Add a second lane and eliminate the left-hand turn pocket, or move the pocket over and do a little paving. Now cars will be two abreast at the red signal at 19th and when the signal changes, the amount of traffic able to move through the intersection will almost double.

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The left-turn pocket is seldom used. I only occasionally see a car turning left, so nothing will be lost by eliminating it.

Maybe I’m missing something, but a fix seems to be easy. It’s as though Caltrans has the wherewithal to change these things, but it enjoys torturing us.

Jerry Bernheimer, Newport Beach

Yes, some motorists would compare Friday afternoon on the freeway to medieval torture. But the last time I was at Caltrans headquarters I didn’t spot the rack, wooden stocks or even a good leather whip.

Indeed, the agency seemed eager to embrace your suggestions to reduce some of the torment on Newport Boulevard.

Last Friday, Caltrans reprogrammed the signal lights in that bottleneck to give southbound motorists on Newport Boulevard a longer green light.

Albert Miranda, a Caltrans spokesman, said the agency “maxed out” the signals to give as much preference as possible to southbound motorists.

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Unfortunately, the adjustment added only a few seconds to the green-light phase for Newport Boulevard. Still, it should help.

Miranda said the agency is also taking steps to pour more pavement near 19th Street to accommodate an additional lane to help relieve the bottleneck. Caltrans officials hope the pavement can be laid down in the next week or so, he said. The left turn lane, however, will remain because a number of cars use it each day, Miranda said.

There is some bad news. Despite the improvements at 19th Street, most of the rest of the stretch will have to remain only one lane. The reduced width is necessary to give work crews room to continue building that section of the freeway, Miranda said.

A related note: Since the opening of the 1.1-mile first phase of the Costa Mesa Freeway extension last week, southbound motorists on the new swath of highway have been caught in what amounts to a perpetual traffic jam.

The four-lane freeway funnels down to a two-lane off-ramp at Wilson Street, and cars back up well onto the new highway. But the chief cause isn’t the off-ramp, Miranda said. The problem is--you guessed it--the bottleneck situation on southbound Newport Boulevard.

Officials hope the signal improvements and added pavement help a bit, and further relief should come in late summer when Newport Boulevard returns to its original three lanes in each direction.

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Although the spanking new stretch of freeway pavement beckons, Caltrans officials are continuing to advise motorists headed to Newport Beach to seek alternative routes whenever possible, Miranda said. Until the entire 3.2-mile freeway extension is completed, that bottleneck will remain one of Orange County’s closest things to a torture chamber.

Dear Street Smart:

This is to fill you and Bob Lowe in on the background as to why the Garden Grove Freeway won’t be connecting with the Foothill tollway (Street Smart, April 8).

There are more than 26,000 of us living in the unincorporated area plus our neighbors with Tustin or Orange addresses who would be affected.

Believe me, we aren’t all millionaires. Many of the homes between La Veta and Fairhaven from Tustin Avenue to Foothill are modest ones built in the late 1950s and early ‘60s. Lots of people have lived here 25 years or more.

When a hearing was held on extending the freeway, McPherson Middle School was jammed. Although we’re over a mile away, the nearest parking space was right in our own garage. No one wanted to see our established community of homes with big yards, schools and places of worship destroyed to ease commuting from new developments farther south.

Even today, although prices are in six figures, it’s still a more affordable area than Irvine and many South County locales.

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And just think, if all our homes were condemned and we had to move, we’d be on the freeway with you.

Anita Freedman, Santa Ana

You make some good points. But I stick by my original premise: Wealthy neighborhoods wield greater clout in freeway wars.

As you note, much of the area that would have been trampled by an eastern extension of the Garden Grove Freeway is middle-class. But a fair number of the neighborhoods are enclaves for the well-to-do, and their political muscle played no small role in helping to nip the extension idea in the bud.

But don’t get me wrong--I fully sympathize with residents rich and not-so-rich who opposed the freeway extension.

The very notion of demolishing houses for such a purpose underscores the fact that past governments underestimated or ignored the future growth of Orange County when they were laying out our freeways.

Let’s hope today’s leaders can prove more prophetic and skillful at managing development in Orange County while providing new transportation alternatives for residents who are here now as well as those still to come.

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Dear Street Smart:

Regarding your column of April 29, my husband and I question your reference to the use of asphalt on the new strip of Costa Mesa Freeway. Did Caltrans say it is asphalt?

We thought concrete would be used.

We know that concrete driveways are the ones to have for homeowners.

Ruth Rueger, Costa Mesa

You caught me. Yes, that new segment is indeed concrete, which is the pavement of choice in Southern California because it lasts twice as long as asphalt (a 20-year life span compared to 10 years for black-top).

But be forewarned: The final 2.1-mile segment of the freeway extension, which will be completed in late 1992, will feature some sections paved with asphalt.

The reason is ground water, which can cause the road bed to shift and buckle.

The final phase of the extension will sit closer to the ocean and deeper in the broad ditch that accommodates the freeway, and will be more greatly affected by ground water, engineers say. Asphalt is more flexible than concrete, which can crack and break under such conditions.

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