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Matching Funds to Improve Junction Weighed

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The board of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority agreed Thursday to investigate ways to match the funding it has asked the state to provide to bring relief to motorists who use the congested San Diego-Ventura freeway interchange.

The move, proposed by county Supervisor Gloria Molina, who is on the board, did not specify the 405 / 101 project. It simply directed MTA staff to evaluate “any matching opportunities” for that project and seven others that the board included on a list of priorities it asked the state Department of Transportation to pay for.

Despite the lack of a firm funding commitment, the board’s action delighted Assemblyman Wally Knox, who has strongly urged the MTA to set aside some of its money to improve the clogged interchange, the fourth-busiest freeway junction in California.

When considering which projects to finance, Caltrans tends to favor those that include a local funding partnership, according to an MTA committee report.

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“Up to this point, they were completely, as a policy, resisting the idea of a local match,” said Knox, a Democrat who represents parts of Encino, Sherman Oaks and Studio City. “The breakthrough today was they got the concept that without a local match, they would get nothing.”

The proposed $13.1-million upgrade would include widening the connector between the northbound San Diego Freeway and southbound Ventura Freeway and adding an auxiliary lane to the San Diego Freeway. The project is one of the least expensive on the MTA priority list.

Overall, the projects would cost about $250 million--far more than the $60 million in state funds available through Caltrans, which must divvy up the money between Los Angeles, San Diego and other Southern California regions.

In a letter read aloud by his spokesman, Assemblyman Robert Hertzberg (D-Sherman Oaks) urged the board to “send a strong message of the authority’s commitment to the candidate projects” by negotiating a cost-sharing agreement with Caltrans.

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“Now we have to sell it to Caltrans, but we’ve got the leg up to sell it,” the spokesman, Paul Hefner, said after the vote.

Next, Caltrans’ regional director must decide by Dec. 4 which projects to recommend to the agency’s headquarters in Sacramento. Caltrans will then submit a statewide list of projects to the California Transportation Commission, which will decide in January the ones to fund.

If unsnarling the San Diego-Ventura freeway junction is ultimately approved, the state money would become available in March, Caltrans spokeswoman Margie Tiritilli said. Transportation planners would then have to design the freeway improvements.

“Our goal is to break ground in 2000,” Tiritilli said.

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Robert Cashin, MTA deputy executive officer for planning, said he expects the interchange proposal to compete well against the other projects that Caltrans will consider because it would loosen a lot of congestion for a relatively low cost. Any money that the MTA contributes, he added, could make the project more attractive from the state’s perspective.

“It’s still up in the air,” Cashin said. “But I sense the [MTA] board was leaning toward doing some contribution, but looking for a little more information as to how much and where the money would come from.”


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