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Diamond Lanes to Be Added to Simi Freeway : Transportation: The plan is part of a $39.4-million project to widen the north Valley thoroughfare.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

State transportation engineers are planning the first freeway car-pool lanes in the San Fernando Valley as part of a $39.4-million project to widen the Simi Valley Freeway, officials said Wednesday.

The new lanes, which will extend from the Golden State Freeway to the Ventura County line in both directions, will be built in the median strip of the Simi Valley Freeway, officials said. Construction is expected to begin in 1994 and will take between 12 and 18 months.

The state Department of Transportation in 1989 dropped plans to dedicate a new lane on the Ventura Freeway to car pools after vehement opposition from local residents and politicians, who argued that the restricted lanes would aggravate commuters and cause more congestion and accidents.

But car-pool lanes on the Simi Valley Freeway are supported--somewhat reluctantly--by many north Valley commuters and officials, who note that, in addition to car-pool lanes, a fourth regular lane will be created along much of the freeway in both directions.

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Caltrans plans eventually to add car-pool lanes--also known as diamond lanes or HOV lanes, for high-occupancy vehicle--to all other Valley freeways except the Ventura Freeway, officials said.

Officials said the car-pool lanes on the Simi Valley Freeway will be new lanes carved out of the median strip, meaning that solo commuters will not be pushed out of existing lanes.

The Simi Valley Freeway has experienced increasingly heavy traffic as suburbs have sprung up in northwestern Los Angeles and eastern Ventura counties. Traffic is also slowed during peak hours by the changing configuration of the freeway, which varies from three lanes to five.

The new car-pool lanes will be available only to vehicles occupied by two or more people. Transportation officials say such lanes carry up to twice as many people as conventional lanes and reduce air pollution.

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Besides adding the car-pool lanes, engineers plan to widen the freeway from three regular lanes to four between the Ventura County line and De Soto Avenue by narrowing lanes from 12 feet to 11 and using an eastbound breakdown lane and westbound truck-only lane, said Raja Mitwasi, Caltrans project engineer for the widening.

From De Soto to Balboa Avenue, the freeway will be widened from three regular lanes to four, plus the diamond lane. From Balboa to the Golden State Freeway, Caltrans will add a car-pool lane to the existing five lanes, said Ron Klusza, Caltrans HOV operations coordinator.

The widening project is supported by many homeowners and local elected officials, despite one lane being limited to car pools.

“Diamond lanes certainly have never been in favor,” Assemblywoman Paula L. Boland (R-Granada Hills) said. “It’s unfair to deny some people access to the freeway.” But, she said, “if that’s the only way they’re going to do it . . . the diamond lane is better than what we have there now.”

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