Santa Ana Freeway Project Spurs Series of Closures : Transportation: Alternative routes will enable commuters to get around affected ramps and lanes.

TIMES URBAN AFFAIRS WRITER

The new year could leave Orange County commuters with a lengthy hangover due to a series of ramp and lane closures that are part of the massive, $1.6-billion Santa Ana Freeway widening project.

On Saturday, for example, one of the county's worst bottlenecks--the Santa Ana-Costa Mesa freeway interchange--will lose a major artery. The northbound Santa Ana Freeway connector to the southbound Costa Mesa Freeway will be closed for a staggering two-year period.

Caltrans officials said there's no way to keep the ramp open as they rebuild the interchange. As a result, motorists will be asked to take one of two alternative routes:

* Prior to reaching the interchange, northbound Santa Ana Freeway traffic can exit at Red Hill Avenue, proceed south on Red Hill to Edinger Avenue and then take Edinger west to the Costa Mesa Freeway.

* After driving through the interchange, commuters can exit the Santa Ana Freeway at 1st Street, take 1st Street east to Tustin Avenue, travel north on Tustin to 17th Street and then follow 17th Street east to the Costa Mesa Freeway.

Caltrans officials noted that rain could postpone the ramp closure.

Once completed, the interchange will feature wider, longer and safer freeway-to-freeway transfers and special ramps reserved for car-pools and buses.

As of tonight, the McFadden Avenue on-ramp to the northbound Costa Mesa Freeway will close for about a month for remodeling.

What's more, re-striping work will force Caltrans to close lanes at night in various locations. These include:

* The transition from the northbound Costa Mesa Freeway to the Santa Ana Freeway, from 11 p.m. tonight to 6 a.m. Friday, including the No. 3 lane on the northbound Costa Mesa Freeway.

* All southbound Santa Ana Freeway lanes from The City Drive to Main Street, from 11 p.m. tonight to 5 a.m. Friday.

* All northbound Costa Mesa Freeway lanes, including connectors at the Santa Ana Freeway, from 11 p.m. Friday to 6 a.m. Saturday.

* All northbound Santa Ana Freeway lanes at the Costa Mesa Freeway, from 11 p.m. Saturday to 6 a.m. Sunday.

* All southbound Costa Mesa Freeway lanes at the Santa Ana Freeway, from 11 p.m. Sunday to 5 a.m. Monday.

* All westbound Garden Grove Freeway lanes from Main Street to The City Drive, from 11 p.m. Monday to 5 a.m. Tuesday, repeated during the same hours Tuesday night to Wednesday morning .

Signs that say "DETOUR" usually spell frustration for motorists, but Caltrans is optimistic this time.

"Where we've been widening (the Santa Ana Freeway) south of the (Costa Mesa Freeway) interchange, we know that traffic is moving as well or better on the freeway lanes themselves," said Tim Buchanan, a Caltrans project engineer.

But Buchanan said he does not know how much traffic may have worsened on surrounding surface streets. Caltrans has been conducting traffic counts to assess the situation, but Caltrans staffers familiar with such monitoring were not available this week.

In Santa Ana, meanwhile, city and Caltrans officials are discussing ways to meet residents' complaints about heavy traffic on Santa Clara Avenue caused by a detour around a closed ramp from the eastbound Garden Grove Freeway to the southbound Santa Ana Freeway. That ramp--also known as the "Orange Crush"--is closed due to reconstruction of the Santa Ana, Garden Grove and Orange freeways.

Closed For Construction

Beginning this weekend, motorists will have to cope with a two-year closure of the northbound Santa Ana Freeway connector to the southbound Costa Mesa Freeway. Other shorter closures also will begin this week as part of the Santa Ana Freeway widening project.

Other Closures

* The McFadden Street on-ramp to the northbound Costa Mesa Freeway, beginning Thursday and continuing for about a month, due to remodeling.

* All southbound Santa Ana Freeway lanes from The City Drive to Main Street, from 11 p.m. Thursday to 5 a.m. Friday.

* The connectors from the northbound Costa Mesa Freeway to the northbound and southbound Santa Ana Freeway, from 11 p.m. Thursday to 6 a.m. Friday. The No. 3 lane on the northbound Costa Mesa Freeway will also be closed during this time.

* All northbound Costa Mesa Freeway lanes, including connectors, at the Santa Ana Freeway, from 11 p.m. Friday to 6 a.m. Saturday.

* All southbound Costa Mesa Freeway lanes at the Santa Ana Freeway, from 11 p.m. Sunday to 5 a.m. Monday.

* All westbound Garden Grove Freeway lanes from Main Street to The City Drive, from 11 p.m. Monday to 5 a.m. Tuesday, repeated during the same hours Tuesday night to Wednesday morning.

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