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Residents resigned to $1-billion 5 Freeway expansion

Times Staff Writer

Rosalind Gonzales has lived in her Norwalk house 30 years, raising her two now-adult sons there. She told state officials Tuesday that she’s not ready to move -- even though her home might have to be demolished to make room for an expanded Santa Ana Freeway.

“I don’t want to move,” the 58-year-old nurse’s aide said. “You just can’t throw me somewhere else and tell me to start over again. Life is too short.”

Gonzales was among more than 250 people who attended a public hearing on the proposed $1.2-billion widening of the heavily congested route.

The proposed expansion would eliminate the notorious bottleneck at the Los Angeles County-Orange County line but would also force hundreds of families and businesses to sell their land and relocate -- some against their will.

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After more than two decades of study, California Department of Transportation officials have most of the money in hand to begin major construction along a nine-mile stretch -- between the 605 and Riverside freeways -- of the state’s major north-south artery.

The project, which will take a decade, has become more pressing as Orange County transportation planners have pushed the bottleneck north with freeway improvements of their own.

The Caltrans proposal “is being designed to reduce existing and forecasted congestion,” said Emad Gordy, the project manager.

Residents and business owners reviewed five plans at Tuesday night’s public hearing, a final step in the environmental review process. It is followed by design and construction.

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Two of the plans would add as many as three lanes in each direction through Downey, Norwalk, La Mirada, Santa Fe Springs, Cerritos and Buena Park. The others suggest easing congestion with increased bus and train service in those areas, and smaller street projects.

Caltrans is still weighing its options. But a source close to the project said Los Angeles County is likely to follow Orange County’s lead: building out for 12 lanes but opening just 10, including at least one carpool lane in each direction.

Unlike Gonzales, most of those at the hearing were resigned to the idea that the freeway would be widened.

“I think it’s inevitable,” Armida Rosario, 49, of Santa Fe Springs said beforehand. “I think that it’s something that needs to be done.”

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Business owner Marc Consigilo, 48, of Norwalk attended the hearing to make sure that he is fairly compensated if his auto repair shop and liquor store are torn down to make way for the expansion. “How are they going to come up with the numbers?” he asked before the hearing. “No one’s been able to give me an answer.”

Traffic on the Santa Ana Freeway now goes from five lanes in Orange County to three heading north into Los Angeles County before widening again to four lanes past the 605.

The proposed lanes would increase freeway capacity to as many as 230,000 vehicles a day -- up from the more than the 174,000 vehicles now passing through on an average weekday.

“That’s going to help a lot of people,” said David Yale, director of regional planning for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which will fund the project.

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To pay for construction, the MTA has put aside more than $650 million and is seeking an additional $367 million in newly available state bond money to complete the project.

As many as 200 homes and nearly 350 businesses along the freeway would be affected.

On Monday, Caltrans endorsed the expansion as part of its $6.1-billion recommendation to the California Transportation Commission, which will allocate the funds Feb. 28. Officials also urged use of state bond money for other projects, including adding carpool lanes on the San Diego and San Bernardino freeways in Los Angeles County, and expanding California 138 in the Palmdale-Lancaster area.

Next year, Caltrans plans to begin the environmental process for adding lanes to the Santa Ana Freeway from the 605 to the Long Beach Freeway.

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jean.guccione@latimes.com


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