Fighting Bulge on Orange Freeway Is an Uphill Battle

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Dear Street Smart:

On the Orange Freeway near the Los Angeles/Orange County line, on the northbound side, there is a peculiar swelling of the pavement across three lanes. It appeared about a year after the freeway was built. At that time, Caltrans shaved it down so that the road was level. It has gradually reappeared and grown so that it's now like a large speed hump, about 10 to 15 feet across. I know there's an earthquake fault running through the hills near there. Is there any connection?

Mary Sampson, Yorba Linda

An earthquake fault is a very good guess. Personally, I would have blamed mutant giant gophers.

As it turns out, we're both wrong. The culprit is ground water in the area. John Garner, a Caltrans maintenance supervisor, said the earth beneath the hump apparently is so porous that it allows ground water to percolate beneath the road and cause that stretch of pavement to swell up.

In an effort to keep your shoulder blades from jerking up toward your earlobes as you traverse the hump, work crews have ground down the section on several occasions, Garner said. But, he noted, "you can only grind so much."

To compensate, Caltrans has drilled holes through the pavement on either side of the swelling and pumped in a slushy mix of ash and water. The mixture helps push up the pavement leading to and from the hump, making it easier on your shocks.

Garner said work crews keep a wary eye on the bump. So far, the beastly thing hasn't grown big enough to cause safety problems, he said. But if it continues to look as if some reject from a science fiction film is preparing to pop through the pavement, Caltrans will get work crews out there to smooth it out. And if it's giant gophers, they'll need a lot more than jackhammers.

Dear Street Smart:

The intersection of Los Alamitos Boulevard and Katella Avenue in Los Alamitos gives me cause to worry. In the seven years I have lived here, every time I am at this intersection, someone runs one of the left-turn signals. I don't just mean one car, but two, three and sometimes more.

Never have I seen anyone stopped for this. I've seen several near-misses.

Does the local police department pay any attention to this? Maybe the signal isn't long enough to clear out the lane. Maybe adjustments would help.

Cheri Astrahan, Los Alamitos

That intersection is hardly unique. Orange County is rife with scalawags who run left-turn signals. Unfortunately, there rarely seems to be a police officer on the scene to slap a ticket in the palm of all those loathsome left-turners.

Los Alamitos police, however, say they're doing the best they can to keep things under control at Katella Avenue and Los Alamitos Boulevard.

They cite violators there on a regular basis, but the problem won't change unless people's attitudes change, said Traffic Officer Rod McKenzie. Drivers need to realize that missing the signal means only a few minutes wait, at most.

"Take an extra minute," McKenzie advises motorists who might consider squeaking through under a red light.

Even if the green-arrow time were extended for cars turning left, there would still be some drivers that would have to wait, McKenzie said. At peak times, that intersection is simply so busy that not every driver turning left can make the light. And a lot don't bother to stop when the light turns red.

"It's just a matter of heavy congestion," McKenzie said, "and people just don't want to wait."

They should. Getting ticketed means at least a 10-minute delay and a possible fine.

Dear Street Smart:

While the debate and plans go on for widening the Riverside Freeway, there is something temporary that could make a lot of difference.

The real bottleneck on the whole highway is between the Featherly bridge and Green River, a four-mile stretch that lacks a frontage road. Why not allow drivers to ride on the shoulder during peak hours for this section? Maybe the shoulder of the road could be improved so it could handle the cars.

It's an idea that has precedent. Motorists are allowed to use the shoulder during rush hour on freeways in San Diego and on some stretches of Interstate 5 in Los Angeles.

Charles H. Jameson, Corona

It sounded like a good idea to me, but Caltrans didn't warm up to it.

Officials said work on car-pool lanes or a toll road in the center median along that stretch of the Riverside Freeway should be under way relatively soon, meaning construction crews will need all the room they can get. Opening up the shoulder would also create problems by eliminating any emergency parking.

Caltrans also has safety worries. The shoulder in that stretch is 10 feet wide, allowing barely enough room for a car to scrape by. Moreover, if cars are allowed so close to the edge, their weight could cause the highway pavement to crumble.

Last but not least, opening up the shoulder might not really do much to relieve the freeway crunch, Caltrans officials said. Cars that fanned out onto the shoulder would eventually have to fan back into the slow lane, creating a bottleneck.

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