BUENA PARK : Santa Ana Freeway Double-Deck Eyed

During the next several months, transportation consultants will consider plans to double-deck or widen the Santa Ana Freeway as officials in six cities attempt to relieve traffic congestion plaguing their areas.

The expansion project is aimed at a 9-mile stretch of freeway, considered one of the most jammed areas in the nation.

More than 130,000 vehicles a day travel through this section that reaches from the Riverside Freeway in Buena Park to the San Gabriel River Freeway in Los Angeles County. It is a major commuting route for Orange County residents who work in the neighboring county.

While unclogging traffic is a priority for the six cities that border the freeway project, municipal officials have another more pressing concern: Many of their lucrative auto dealerships and other tax-generating businesses hug the roadway and could be wiped out or severely damaged if it is widened.

Fearing economic devastation, the cities--including Buena Park, La Mirada, Commerce, Downey, Santa Fe Springs and Norwalk--formed a consortium and have been lobbying hard for double-decking as the solution to the traffic woes.

In fact, the cities went to Washington recently and persuaded Congress to give them $6.7 million to pursue the decking proposal as a model demonstration project.

"We did not want a widening alternative that would go well beyond the existing right of way, because it would basically devastate a lot of the cities along the route," said Daniel Keen, Norwalk deputy city manager. "Double-decking is what we lobbied for."

However, the state Department of Transportation has endorsed widening the freeway and has received approval to do so through Anaheim. Barry Rabbitt, deputy district director for the Santa Ana Freeway improvements, says consultants will be looking at all alternatives to come up with the best possible solution.

Double-decking will not be overlooked, but it is very expensive, Rabbitt said.

Rabbitt said that many of the other cities that have lost businesses to widening projects, such as Anaheim, find that the improvements were worth it.

"They feel that the congestion that exists is restricting the economic development."

According to a Buena Park staff report, more than 60 homes and businesses including key redevelopment projects could be lost with the expansion plans resulting in a loss of more than $1 million in yearly sales tax revenue. It could also drive away many proposed developments, officials speculate.

Several alternatives will be considered during the next few years, including exclusive double-decking lanes for commuters only, mixed car-pool lanes and automated toll facilities. The study is expected to take up to three years before a final plan is adopted.

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