Staff Reporter

In just six months, Staples Center is expected to open, bringing thousands of additional cars to already-jammed downtown streets and freeways. Yet the arena's developer has yet to submit a plan spelling out how that traffic will be handled.

Meanwhile, few of the planned street improvements such as additional turn lanes and widening of side streets have been completed. In fact, Staples Center officials say many of those improvements are still being negotiated with local transportation agencies.

Staples officials are also still negotiating with the California Department of Transportation over who is going to pay for the biggest-ticket mitigation measure: widening freeway off-ramps, particularly the one off the southbound Harbor (110) Freeway at Olympic Boulevard.

"They are on a really tight schedule and I don't know if everything can be ready on time," said John Sheppard, land use and planning deputy for Councilwoman Rita Walters, whose district includes the Staples Center.

Staples officials say that adequate traffic-mitigation measures will be in place by October.

"We will be prepared to open with all the mitigation measures necessary and we are working very closely with all the agencies to make this happen," said Staples Center General Manager Bobby Goldwater. "We're very aware that nothing is better than a good first impression, and we are going to do the best we can to make this a trouble-free experience for our guests."

But city planners and outside traffic experts say that congestion during the first few weeks or months will most likely be severe.

Even Ted Tanner, vice president of real estate for Los Angeles Arena Co., the holding company for Staples Center, conceded: "There's no question things are going to be a bit rough during the first few weeks. It's going to be a sorting-out period."

So how could a $360 million sports arena get approved in one of the world's most congested urban cores without a traffic mitigation plan in place?

The answer, in short, is political pressure.

Requiring a "parking and circulation management plan" typically part of an environmental impact report when a new project is proposed would have delayed the Staples Center project by a year or more. As it was, the City Council was under intense pressure during the summer of 1997 to fast-track the project.

The developer, a partnership headed by Majestic Realty Co. President Ed Roski Jr. and Denver billionaire Philip Anschutz, was threatening to abandon the arena if it did not get rapid council approval.

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