Sam Fadli used to watch lunchtime customers stream into his Main Street restaurant and bar. But on Tuesday, the bar stools at Kaplan's Deli were vacant, and only a pair of diners sat in the back corner, conversing in hushed tones.
"Nobody walks here," said Fadli, who has owned the deli for about 18 months. "People don't have fast access here anymore because we lost our off-ramp and they're closing the street."
Fadli's restaurant stands just north of the Main Street bridge over the Santa Ana Freeway, where a massive $38-million Caltrans widening project has already shut down three on- and off-ramps, including one Tuesday. The bridge itself will close for two years beginning Thursday.
The closure will sever one of the city's major north-south arteries, prompting some officials to predict long delays at some times of the day until motorists learn how to maneuver around the jammed area.
"We anticipate that there's going to be a tremendous amount of congestion in the areas of Santa Clara and Main, and Santa Clara and Broadway--basically in all directions of travel," said Santa Ana Police Lt. Richard Helton.
Motorists traveling north on Main Street will be detoured west to Santa Clara Avenue, north on Broadway and east on Owens Drive. Southbound drivers will have to take Owens Drive west, Broadway south and Buffalo Avenue east.
As part of the project, the southbound off-ramp from the Santa Ana Freeway to Main Street was closed Tuesday, and the southbound on-ramp at Buffalo Avenue will be closed in three months. An on-ramp to the northbound side of the freeway was closed earlier this year and will reopen in mid-1995. The northbound off-ramp was closed at the same time but replaced with a temporary off-ramp at MainPlace Drive.
The timing of the Main Street project is lamentable, Fadli said. He has already lost 25% of his business to the recent construction on the freeway ramps and the recession, he said. Fadli laid off seven workers last week, and although the deli will stay open, he plans to file for bankruptcy next week, he said.
At the nearby MainPlace mall, Judy Thompson of Fullerton said she is unsure how to navigate the streets to get to work in Santa Ana.
"I use the (Santa Ana Freeway) off-ramp to Main Street, and I don't know how to go otherwise," she said. "I guess I'll have to find out, huh?"
But some believe the long-term benefits of the widening project will outweigh any inconveniences.
"We're going to go through some short-term pain," said Michael Metzler, president of the Santa Ana Chamber of Commerce. "But in the long term, it's going to be a boon for business."
Said Gloria Choate, owner of Pacific Travel Service, as rumbling from the construction vibrated her office: "I'm thrilled to death, because I can't turn out of our driveway without fear of getting hit and killed on Main Street. No more traffic down here? It doesn't bother me a bit!"
Just then, Geraldine Leon, a travel agent, walked in with a fast-food sack and a soda. "I had to jump a curb off Edgewood (Road) to get in here. I hate this!"
The Main Street bridge construction is part of Caltrans' Santa Ana Freeway widening project, which is planned for completion in 1996, said Pam Gorniak, a Caltrans spokeswoman. The bridge, which now has three lanes in each direction, will be expanded and lengthened to accommodate a widening of the Santa Ana Freeway below it to 12 lanes, she said.
With an average of 35,000 vehicles a day, the Main Street bridge carries considerably more traffic than the four-lane Broadway bridge over the freeway, which handles about 22,000 vehicles, said T.C. Sutaria, traffic engineer for the city of Santa Ana. Broadway could accommodate as many as 30,000 vehicles, he said, but the additional cars could cause delays.
Sutaria said he expects the reopening last week of the Bristol/La Veta bridge northwest of the Main Street bridge to pull some of the traffic away from the Main Street and Broadway routes.
But officials acknowledged that driving through the area will test the patience of commuters.
"We're trying to facilitate traffic and put drivers through the minimum inconvenience possible," Sutaria said. "It will be congested, but after a week or so, they will find alternate routes."
Sutaria said he could not offer any suggestions to commuters, but will watch where they go instead.
"Motorists seek the path of minimum resistance," he said.
Police will be monitoring the traffic tie-ups, especially at the intersections of Santa Clara Avenue and Broadway, and Broadway and Owens Drive.
"A visible presence by us might stop that person who wants to cut through traffic and make illegal turning movements," Helton said. "We may have some people making some left turns at places they shouldn't."
Helton said officers will watch where motorists struggle around the construction areas to determine how to respond to the traffic crunch.
As part of the widening project, the Santa Ana City Council has approved a plan to prevent commuter traffic from entering the Floral Park neighborhood. Temporary barriers at Santa Clara Avenue and 19th Street will restrict traffic, Sutaria said.
Caltrans' Gorniak said that a sign will be erected on Owens Avenue advising southbound Main Street drivers that businesses along the stretch are still open. The temporary off-ramp from the northbound Santa Ana Freeway onto MainPlace Drive also brings customers into the area, she said.
Nightmare on Main Street As part of the Santa Ana Freeway widening project, the Main Street bridge over the freeway in Santa Ana closes Thursday for at least two years. The estimated $38-million cost will cover the reconstruction of the on- and off-ramps at Main Street, the widening of the freeway and bridge reconstruction. Motorists may choose from the following alternate routes: Temporary northbound off-ramp to MainPlace Drive is open indefinitely, until a permanent off-ramp is built Main Street bridge closes Southbound detour: Take Owens Drive to Broadway to Buffalo Avenue Northbound detour: Take Santa Clara Avenue to Broadway to Owens Drive Southbound on-ramp at Buffalo Avenue closes in October for undetermined period Santa Clara and Buffalo avenues became one-way streets in February Southbound off-ramp to Main Street closed Tuesday for a year Detour: Exit at Broadway and take Buffalo Avenue to Main Street Bristol/La Veta bridge opened July 1 Northbound on-ramp at Main closes Traffic should use 17th Street on-ramp or proceed to La Veta Avenue to the westbound Garden Grove freeway to the northbound Santa Ana freeway. New Construction Santa Ana has been the site of significant new construction in recent years and is planning major projects into the next century. Some of the biggest: Main Street Concourse: County's tallest building, a 32-story office tower, townhomes and condominiums, stage and movie theaters. First phase expected to open by 1996; completion expected by 2000. Midtown renovation: New parking structures and office space redevelopment. Construction expected to begin in 1994 and continue 20 to 30 years. Bowers Museum expansion: Creation of a museum district. Museum renovation completed last year. Science center expected to be completed by early 1997. Fiesta Market Place: Completed in 1986. MainPlace: Transformation of Fashion Square into MainPlace/Santa Ana mall. North wing completed in 1990. Hotel and office tower remain to be built; timing uncertain. Federal courts complex: First phase completion expected by 1997; total completion by 2010. Police administration building: Headquarters completion expected by 1996. County criminal courts: Court building addition; completion expected by 1997. Sources: Caltrans, Los Angeles Times reports; Researched by CAROLINE LEMKE/Los Angeles Times