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LA CONCHITA : 2-Mile Barrier Along Freeway Is Criticized

A two-mile concrete barrier along the Ventura Freeway near La Conchita is drawing criticism from local environmentalists, who complain that they were left out when state officials decided to replace a metal guardrail formerly at the site.

But state Department of Transportation officials say they decided to build the wall only after local bicyclists said they needed a wider bike path to prevent injuries or deaths.

“The concrete barrier is approximately four feet closer to the ocean” than the old metal railing, said Caltrans engineer Robert Joe. The space will “provide a wider area for parking and for bicyclists,” he said.

A 65-year-old Tarzana woman was killed by a southbound driver in June as she peddled along the bike path at La Conchita. Within weeks, Caltrans officials began working on alternatives to the metal railing.

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Members of the Ventura chapter of the Surfrider Foundation, however, said Caltrans excluded them from the decision-making process.

“It would have been nice if they’d put out the information or held a public hearing,” said Brian Brennan, who serves on the local chapter’s executive board.

“If it’s a positive thing, then people would have at least understood what they were trying to accomplish,” Brennan said.

The wall is designed to prevent cars from veering off the southbound lanes of the highway onto the beach. It is 32 inches tall--five inches higher than the metal railing.

Because the wall is concrete, however, environmentalists also complain that they can no longer see the coastline while driving along the highway.

“The public doesn’t think of a rail as something made out of precast concrete,” said Larry Manson, another Surfrider board member. “To me, a guardrail is mounted on posts and made out of steel, but this thing’s two miles long.”

Manson, however, said there is little that can be done about the wall now. But he said the complaints will motivate Caltrans to hold public hearings on future projects.

“We’re trying to get some method by which government agencies are open to public input,” he said.

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Workers at the site Monday said they should complete the wall by this weekend.

“Since we started building this, there have been a few (cars) that have gone over” the barrier, said Dave Hendry of Modern Alloy, the Orange County-based contractor.

Hendry said his crew has reported some complaints about the new wall from passersby.

“They’re concerned that it might have taken away their horizon,” Hendry said. “But other than that, they’re just curious.”

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