Caltrans Loses Bid to Widen Road Near Playa Vista

Times Staff Writer

The California Coastal Commission rejected a plan Thursday to widen a stretch of Lincoln Boulevard in the Playa Vista area from four lanes to seven after environmentalists and residents said the project would create traffic problems and infringe on wetlands.

The panel voted 11-1 to turn down an application by Caltrans to widen the boulevard between Jefferson Boulevard and Fiji Way, but waived a prohibition on the filing of new plans within six months so the state can come back with an alternative.

The commission rejected the controversial plan even though state transportation and California Highway Patrol officials said the project would make the boulevard safer and accommodate growth in traffic in the area.

After a nearly three-hour hearing at the Radisson LAX Hotel, commissioners said they were not convinced that the widening project was necessary to accommodate current traffic.

"Our commission staff analysis indicated that this was an impermissible fill of wetlands because it was designed not just to deal with existing traffic but also to deal with future development," said Chairman Mike Reilly.

The chairman said he was not convinced that Caltrans had adequately considered alternatives. State officials testified that the stretch of boulevard has a poor traffic safety grade of E, which is one grade above the worst possible.

The project would have taken a boulevard that was two lanes in each direction and widened it to four lanes southbound and three northbound. One of the most controversial elements was a plan to add a bridge over Ballona Creek parallel to an existing bridge.

Environmentalists said that would unacceptably require large supporting posts to be placed in protected wetlands.

A staff report to the commission said that Caltrans had not shown that the 1,267 square feet of fill proposed for the wetlands bridge project met state standards and that the agency had not shown the project was the least environmentally damaging option available.

The commission cited the 1999 Bolsa Chica decision by the California Court of Appeal, which concluded that, when wetlands are involved, "Roadway expansions are permitted only when no other alternative exists and the expansion is necessary to maintain existing traffic capacity."

Some opponents urged Caltrans to consider an alternative of restriping the boulevard for as many as six lanes, which they said would not require a new bridge.

City Councilwoman Cindy Miscikowski had argued for a continuance to allow the public and Caltrans to look at alternatives.

Although the panel voted to reject the Caltrans plan, it waived the ban on refiling new plans within six months, opening the door for submission of a new project.

"We said, 'Let's be creative and look at all the options available,' " said Sharon Sandow, an aide to the councilwoman. "We are looking forward to seeing what alternatives Caltrans comes up with."

Caltrans officials could not be reached for comment after the hearing, but opponents of the project said it was a victory for residents of the area and for preservation of the wetlands.

"I'm thrilled," said Durnford King of the Grassroots Coalition. "We are all very concerned what this would do to traffic and the environment."

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