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Design plan for park atop Hollywood Freeway praised

Pool is a Times staff writer.

Maybe they’ve just scratched the surface, those who want to cover over a mile-long section of the Hollywood Freeway and create a park on top.

But a group promoting construction of an airy, meandering promenade for local Hollywood residents isn’t certain what its effect might be on motorists down below traveling through a serpentine tunnel between Bronson Avenue and Santa Monica Boulevard.

A feasibility report years in the making concludes that the freeway-top park would cost $950 million in today’s dollars. Construction could begin as early as 2012.

The freeway conversion, backed by the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, Los Angeles redevelopment officials and local politicians, would turn the top of the freeway into a 44-acre “locals-first community park.” It would serve what advocates say is one of the city’s most parks-poor areas.

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“It will be built,” advocate Don Scott promised Hollywood residents as the 92-page report detailing its preliminary design concept was released Wednesday night.

A parade of local lawmakers declared their support for what backers call “Hollywood Freeway Central Park,” which would be funded with a combination of state, local, federal and private dollars. A group of about 80 meeting at a newly built Hollywood high school adjacent to the freeway greeted the plans warmly.

Missing from the audience, however, were commuters who a few yards away were struggling in both directions through the end of the evening rush hour. More than 203,000 cars and trucks travel on the stretch of the Hollywood Freeway daily.

What would their experience be like if they were stuck underground up to an hour a day in traffic jams that regularly slow Hollywood Freeway traffic to a 2 mph crawl?

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Feasibility study leader Mike Williams, a senior associate with EDAW Inc., the international design firm that prepared the report, wasn’t sure.

“We didn’t have a psychologist on board,” Williams said after the report’s unveiling.

Design consultants say the one-mile tunnel would be brightly lighted, under full-time surveillance by closed-circuit TV and fully ventilated by filtered vents that would be camouflaged as above-ground sculpture in the overhead parkland.

There would be emergency access for police and fire trucks, Williams said. The tunnel would have automatic gas detectors, emergency exit walkways and a fire detection and suppression system.

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Its ceiling would be at least 17 feet high, providing more room for trucks that sometimes have little space to spare under freeway over-crossings that currently have less than 15 feet of clearance.

Williams’ report cites Boston’s Big Dig Park, Chicago’s Millennium Park, Washington state’s Mercer Island Lid Park and La Canada Flintridge’s tiny 210 Freeway cap as precedents for freeway-top parks.

Hollywood’s park would maintain existing streets’ freeway crossings and add one new one. Fountain Avenue would be extended to create a four-sided plaza over the tunnel, according to the plan.

There would be room for a baseball field near Sunset Boulevard. Other areas would feature meadows, spaces for artworks and a section for a playground and family picnics. Since the mile-long park would be designed for nearby residents, no parking lots would be required.

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Those attending the presentation at the new Helen Bernstein High School had questions about earthquake safety, the park’s ventilation towers, the project’s effect on the neighborhood gentrification and the safety of park users.

Frontage roads and an above-ground police substation at the tunnel’s midpoint would help ensure safety, they were assured.

Hollywood-area Assemblymen Mike Feuer and Kevin de Leon and local City Councilman Tom LaBonge praised the freeway coverup plan. LaBonge said he also hopes to eventually see a freeway-top park linking the Olvera Street area with downtown’s Civic Center.

A detailed environmental impact report will be required as the next step of the project, backers said. It would presumably include its effect on commuters and truckers.

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“It has a big price tag, but it’s a big project,” said Scott, head of the chamber of commerce-backed committee that is pushing for the park. “It’s going to be a long journey. I hope it only takes seven or eight years.”

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bob.pool@latimes.com


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