Residents critical of Caltrans

Two dozen Glendale residents ripped into state transportation officials Thursday during a community meeting on the widening of the Golden State (5) Freeway, saying they failed to provide even basic information on the project.

The residents, many of them homeowners near the Interstate 5 at Western Avenue, said the California Department of Transportation did not give notice on key construction dates or consult with neighbors on the removal of dozens of mature trees.

Jim Grumbley, who lives in the 1400 block of Lake Street, said a neighbor had alerted him to the work.

"I've lived here for 25 years … that is the first I have ever heard of it," Grumbley said. "The first. I mean, come on. And I don't think anyone in the neighborhood knew."

Caltrans engineer Kin Kwan said construction on the $153-million project began in February and is expected to be completed in 2014. It involves widening the freeway along a 2.7-mile stretch between the Ventura (134) Freeway and Magnolia Boulevard to accommodate new carpool lanes.

"In order to do that, we have to make room, so to speak," Kwan said. "We have to widen the freeway in order to make room for the HOV lane. The strategy of this project is, first we attack the outside."

The height of the new sound wall will be increased to 16 feet from its current height of 14 feet, engineers said.

And whenever possible, Caltrans tries to preserve existing trees, said project landscaper Patricia Watanabe.

But the lane additions mean that only about a third of the existing trees will remain, she added. Replacement landscaping will include oak, sycamore, California pepper and crape myrtle trees, as well as Boston ivy and ice plant.

But Caltrans officials struggled to satisfy residents who asked detailed questions about the project, including how many feet the new sound wall would encroach on specific streets and what steps would be taken to protect residents from the impacts of construction.

"I see no water trucks at that Western interchange," said Agnes Tessier, who lives in the 500 block of Winchester Avenue. "We do have an afternoon breeze almost daily that comes up; we are experiencing a lot of dust in the neighborhood. Everyone has got to keep their windows, doors closed."

Parents from Franklin Elementary School, just a block from I-5 at Western Avenue, expressed concern that the removal of the trees exposes their children to dangerous exhaust fumes.

Glendale resident Les Perkins described the expansion of the freeway and its impact on neighbors as "depressing."

"While I have a lot of questions, if I say nothing else I want to campaign for increasing the height of the sound wall," said Perkins, who operates an independent production company out of his home in the 1400 block of Lake Avenue.

The existing trees acted as a buffer between homes and traffic, residents said. Since the trees were ripped out two weeks ago, it has been difficult to have a normal conversation, they added.

Caltrans officials assured residents Thursday that a second meeting would be scheduled to address ongoing concerns.

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