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Sightseeing on the Phantom Freeways of the Southland

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Looking for a new way around town? Hop on the Reseda Freeway. Or the Beverly Hills Freeway. Or the Industrial Freeway.

Don’t go flipping through your Thomas Guide looking for them; they’re among the freeways that were envisioned, but never built.

More than 50 years ago, when the city of freeways was first conceived of, engineers imagined a crisscrossing of the Los Angeles region with a 1,500-mile dream system of freeways.

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No neighborhood was to be more than four miles from a freeway. But the plans were drafted long before the words environmental impact report became the customary greeting from communities to construction crews in orange vests and hard hats.

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Many of the freeways were ultimately built--or at least partly built. One is the Slauson Freeway, which became the Richard Nixon Freeway and then, after Watergate, the Marina Freeway. It was supposed to run from Marina del Rey to Orange County. But, like Nixon, it ran short of expectations, extending only about two miles instead of the planned 40.

In all, 527 miles of freeways have been built in Los Angeles County, although they may bear little resemblance to the early plans.

Everyone knows the Arroyo Seco Parkway became the Pasadena Freeway. But how about the Olympic Freeway--now the Santa Monica, also known as the Christopher Columbus Transcontinental Highway? The Los Angeles River Freeway--you know it better as the Long Beach. The Ramona Freeway, now carrying the name San Bernardino; the Allesandro, now the Glendale, or Frank Lanterman, Freeway (don’t ask), and the Sepulveda--rechristened the San Diego.

The state Highway Commission (which changed its own name to become Transportation Commission) decided that the new names, sometimes less picturesque, would help motorists figure out where they are going.

Part of the Ventura Freeway began life as the Riverside Freeway, because the route is near the Los Angeles River, not because it has anything to do with the city of Riverside.

The 91 Freeway, known as the Riverside Freeway in Orange and Riverside counties, is the Artesia Freeway east of the Long Beach Freeway in Los Angeles County. It was the Redondo Beach Freeway west of the Long Beach Freeway, but a few years ago, it became the Gardena Freeway. Caltrans did not make an announcement of the name change, according to a memo, because “except for a few people in Redondo and Gardena, most people don’t care.”

But many other freeways still exist only on yellowing maps, such as the Laurel Canyon Freeway, Pacific Coast Freeway (highway officials even talked about building an off-shore “causeway"--on stilts), Reseda-to-the-Sea Freeway, and the Whitnall-Malibu Freeway, which would have run through the middle of the San Fernando Valley through Malibu Canyon to the ocean.

Remember the Beverly Hills Freeway? It was to run from the Hollywood Freeway to the San Diego Freeway, generally following Santa Monica Boulevard. Caltrans even bought up property along the route into the early ‘70s.

The Beverly Hills Freeway, like others that were never built, was scratched because of inadequate funding, community opposition, environmental concerns and strong appeals for rapid transit systems.

Take that big chunk of land that sits between the north- and southbound lanes of the Hollywood Freeway near Vermont Avenue. It was set aside for a massive interchange of the Hollywood, Glendale and Beverly Hills freeways--one that was never built.

Given all that, the Century Freeway--opened last year--will in all likelihood be the last freeway built in the Los Angeles area. (Caltrans isn’t giving up a decades-long fight to extend the Long Beach Freeway through South Pasadena.)

The Century Freeway, originally dubbed the El Segundo-Norwalk Freeway but officially the Glenn Anderson Freeway, after the former longtime congressman, cost $2.2 billion and was finished only after a decade of litigation.

The joke about its current name is that it took nearly that long to build it. The project, which was to have taken no more than 10 years, consumed 23. The freeway also was dramatically scaled down from 10 lanes running for 51 miles between San Bernardino and the coast, to an eight-lane freeway 17 miles long.

The Auto Club several years ago called for reviving the Southern California freeway building program, including building a South Bay freeway.

The proposal drew little support except from one letter writer to The Times, who said: “Let’s use those billions of dollars to double-deck or triple-deck our freeways and not waste it on a rapid transit system that will have as much effect on unclogging our freeway mess as one rain drop does at irrigating the Mojave Desert.”

Today, the state’s approach to easing freeway congestion is a mix of concrete and microchips.

Caltrans (in addition to pursing a costly program to strengthen freeways to withstand earthquakes) is intent on expanding the capacity of existing freeways by adding car-pool lanes and instituting “traffic management” programs, such as 100 more of those freeway message boards like the one you saw chatting with Steve Martin in “L.A. Story”; these more ordinary models alert motorists to traffic conditions. Hundreds of video cameras also will be placed on freeways to permit Caltrans to identify and respond more quickly to problems.

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Locally, the biggest freeway projects under way are construction of the $500-million, elevated 50-foot-high bus and car-pool “transitway” on the Harbor Freeway (officials insist it will be safe in an earthquake), the $1-billion widening of the Santa Ana Freeway through Orange County, and the extension of the Foothill Freeway east into San Bernardino County.

Caltrans is looking at broadcasting continuous radio traffic reports, as is done for travelers at Los Angeles International Airport.

“The advantage of radio is we can give a longer message than we can squeeze on the message signs,” said Greg Damico, a senior transportation engineer for Caltrans.

“Ultimately, we would like to develop a system so that computers that are sensing the flow of traffic can generate a digitized computer-voice message telling what the problem is.”

By the way, for those Easterners who think that we call ‘em freeways because they’re free of tolls--wrong, wrong, wrong! According to the California statutes, a freeway is simply a highway “to which the owners of abutting lands have no right or easement of access to or from their abutting lands. . . .”

Name That Freeway Los Angeles County freeways have been known by various names. Can you match the freeways’ former names with their current handles? Answers below.

A. Slauson Freeway 1. Santa Monica Freeway B. Richard Nixon Freeway 2. San Bernardino Freeway C. Olympic Freeway 3. Pasadena Freeway D. Arroyo Seco Parkway 4. Century Freeway E. Ramona Freeway 5. Marina Freeway F. Allesandro Freeway 6. San Diego Freeway G. Sepulveda Freeway 7. Glendale Freeway H. El Segundo-Norwalk Freeway 8. Gardena Freeway I. Redondo Beach Freeway

Answers: A-5, B-5, C-1, D-3, E-2, F-7, G-6, H-4, I-8


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