I-5 project gets complicated

Under pressure to meet strict deadlines or risk losing tens of millions of dollars related to improvements being made to Interstate 5 as it flows through Burbank, state transportation officials are pushing to change the construction timeline.

If the city is unable to agree to the change, the result could significantly impact the scope and budget of the project.

Officials from the California Department of Transportation have asked Burbank to agree to the schedule changes for the $450-million project to add HOV lanes on the I-5 between the Ventura (134) Freeway and Route 14. The scope of work also includes new and revamped interchanges at Empire Avenue and Burbank Boulevard.

But officials have warned that the size of the project will have to be scaled back by $150 million if Caltrans doesn’t meet deadlines tied to the funding. That could include losing the Empire Interchange, according to Caltrans officials, said Principal Planner David Kriske in a presentation to the City Council earlier this month.


“If state money lapses and gets spent somewhere else, we do have a funding shortfall,” Kriske said.

The change called for by state officials involves the closure of San Fernando Boulevard.

The city had agreed in March to the closure of part of San Fernando Boulevard near the freeway after crews finished the Empire Interchange.

San Fernando ultimately would become discontinuous, but motorists would use the improvements created by the Empire Interchange to get around the area.


Now, Caltrans would like to close San Fernando first, before going to work on the Empire Interchange, to accommodate work on a 24-inch petroleum pipeline. Another reason for the early closure is to facilitate moving a fiber optic line that runs through a large part of the area, according to a city report.

Moving up the San Fernando Boulevard closure is being pitched as a vital part of keeping on schedule, but City Council members say they’re wary of spurring a three-year shut down of the street with little public notice.

Roughly 20,000 vehicles a day pass through the quarter-mile long closure point, Kriske said.

The City Council agreed to original plan “with considerable trepidation,” Councilman Dave Golonski said, adding that the main issue was ensuring that a neighborhood not be cut off from a whole section of town.

“When we approved that, we were assured with access provided by the new Empire Interchange it would not create a problem,” Golonski said. “Now they’re back with another change that says, ‘Oops, sorry.’”

City staff recommended approving the early closure, along with plans to reduce congestion on nearby streets that included signal improvements at 11 intersections.

But council members instead established a subcommittee that included Councilwoman Emily Gabel-Luddy and Councilman Gary Bric to study the matter.

Along with City Manager Mike Flad, Kriske and other officials, Gabel-Luddy and Bric are scheduled to meet with Caltrans in the coming weeks to discuss reducing the amount of time San Fernando is closed.


“Keeping San Fernando open adds well over a year to the project timeline and potentially tens of millions of dollars,” Kriske warned.

Councilman David Gordon said the public needed to be involved in the decision-making process for such a vital thoroughfare.

“Twenty-thousand cars, times three years, is a lot of grief,” Gordon said.