Project causes traffic snarls near school

Early-morning commuters heading to La Cañada High School were faced with traffic nightmares in recent weeks, but it appears they’ll have easier going now that a public works project is nearing completion.

Vehicles were backed up along Oak Grove Drive, Foothill Boulevard and Berkshire Avenue because half of Oak Grove Drive was blocked off to allow work on a Los Angeles County Sanitation District sewer-construction project. It got so bad that some students began ditching their cars and heading to class on foot to avoid being late to their finals during the week of Jan. 24-28. La Cañada High’s administration asked teachers to excuse tardiness because of the unforeseen delays, said Rico Bertie, a 17-year old junior at La Cañada High.

“It took about five minutes to get from the light (at Oak Grove Drive and Foothill Boulevard) into the school during finals week,” said Bertie, adding the commute was a “good 10 to 15 minutes longer than usual” for about a month while construction was going on.

The exacerbated traffic has dissipated in recent days. The work in front of LCHS is finished and the entire project is nearly completed, said Mike Tatalovich, Los Angeles County Sanitation District’s project manager on the Oak Grove Drive sewer construction.

“This is a short job for us. One reason it took so long is because [the city of] La Cañada gave us greatly restricted hours,” said Tatalovich. Crews had from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. to work directly in front of the school. “It takes a hour to set up in the morning before hand and a hour to get packed up at the end of the day so we really only had a three-hour window from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.”

The project has been slowly unfolding, over a two-month span, because of the restricted hours, which also raised the price of the bid for the project, Tatalovich said.

Tatalovich said the project was undertaken because a sewer pipe needed to be replaced after it reached capacity. He said the old pipe, which was 10 inches in diameter, was not large enough to serve the area. The new pipe ranges from 18 to 24 inches in diameter.

The approximately $700,000 project technically took place within Pasadena city limits, but La Cañada was mostly impacted by it, Tatalovich said.

“It’s just woods and a park so [Pasadena] wasn’t too concerned about how we were going to do the work,” Tatalovich said. “La Cañada was more concerned with how it would impact the schools and Jet Propulsion Laboratory, so we got all the work approved by the city.”

“Any project like this, because it’s in the public right-of-way, is going to impact the community and their commute,” he said. “The question is, how long do you want it in front of you?”

The worst is over now though, said Erik Zandvliet, La Cañada Flintridge’s traffic engineer.

“The main portion of the project is done, so I don’t think there’s going to be any more major traffic interruptions,” Zandvliet said.

Genesis Hill, a 16-year old junior at La Cañada High, will still be playing it safe in her morning commute. She, along with several of her friends, arrive at school around 7 a.m. — 50 minutes before her first class — just to be sure she isn’t late.

“[Traffic is] always pretty bad,” Hill said. “Since we have four schools next to us it’s pretty hard to get down here from 7:20 a.m. to 7:30 a.m.”

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