City officials are looking into whether developers of a massive NBC Universal project are underestimating how the added traffic will affect surrounding streets in West Burbank.
The influx could be significant. The nearly 400-acre site for the NBC Universal Evolution Plan calls for 2 million square feet of new commercial development, including 500 hotel guest rooms and 2,937 residential units by 2030.
The site in Universal City is bounded primarily by the Los Angeles Flood Control Channel, Lankershim Boulevard, Cahuenga Boulevard and Barham Boulevard.
NBC has already proposed paying for wider streets to include double left turn lanes, right turn lanes and upgraded traffic signals, as well as increasing public transportation options. Those efforts should minimize the traffic impact to West Burbank, according to the environmental report.
But city officials say they’re not so sure.
“We are generally satisfied with the manner in which they conducted the study,” City Planner Michael Forbes said. “We do have some concerns with the assumptions that they used.”
Those assumptions include assuming the new residents will use public transportation instead of driving their own vehicles.
Developers cannot require the new residents to use public transportation.
“We are looking to see if traffic generation is lower than it really will be or what they expect to be,” said Forbes. “We need to look at the effect that assumption has on the impact they found.”
Burbank traffic engineers have been working with Los Angeles for at least a year to ensure the traffic impact study conformed to local metrics, Forbes said.
The report predicts that out of the 21 affected intersections in Burbank, the project will only have a “significant impact” on Olive Avenue at the Warner Bros. Studio Gate 2/Gate 3.
Pat Gibson, president of Gibson Transportation, one of two agencies that drafted the report, said Burbank uses a specific set of criteria to determine traffic impacts.
“If you’ve got an intersection that’s already busy, then they say you cannot add any traffic,” he said. “If there’s an intersection that no one uses, you can add traffic, but if you add more than 1% to 2% capacity anywhere, that’s a problem.”
The affected intersection faces what Gibson calls an incremental impact of 2% increase in traffic, but said the suggestion to widen Olive Avenue was rejected.
The Community Development Department is in the process of reviewing the report’s findings.
Gibson said he expects at least 20% of the new residents to stay and work within the project area and use the public transit options. He pointed to similar residential projects in California that showed 30% to 40% of their residents using public transportation.
“We cannot generate more than X number of trips after the completion of each phase,” Gibson said. “We literally have to perform.”
Burbank police and fire officials are also reviewing the impacts and how they may affect emergency response needs to the area.
“We don’t have automatic aid agreements to that area,” said fire Capt. Ron Bell. “No one has been approached to create a new automatic aid agreement specifically for this project.”
Police Chief Scott LaChasse said the biggest impact on his department would be the additional traffic.
“We are working with the Community Development Department to ensure the necessary measures are taken into account for the additional traffic coming through Burbank and from people coming out of the area,” he said.
Comments on the report must be submitted by Jan. 3. City planners will have a draft of the City Hall’s official comment letter for review at the Dec. 14 City Council meeting.
The draft Environmental Impact Report is available online and at the Burbank Central Library.