Last Link of Alameda Corridor To Disrupt Traffic Flow on PCH

By DAVID GREENBERG
Staff Reporter

Although it officially opened to great fanfare last April, the Alameda Corridor still isn't finished.

The much delayed final phase of the $2.4 billion project construction of a bridge that will span Pacific Coast Highway in Wilmington over the railway that links the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach and downtown L.A. is scheduled to begin in May.

The year-long project is expected to cause delays on PCH as vehicles are detoured along a 3.5-mile route.

This last $107 million portion of construction will eliminate the current wait facing 33,000 motorists each day at railroad crossings after the number of trains from the ports increased when the corridor opened.

"This is the final, final link, which should have been in the original corridor project," said L.A. City Councilwoman Janice Hahn, chairwoman of the Alameda Corridor Transportation Authority's governing board. "With everyone touting how great the corridor is, once again Wilmington was left out the equation. To shut down PCH for a year is going to cause tremendous (traffic) problems. But we made it clear this project was critical to the quality of life for Wilmington."

California Department of Transportation officials attributed the holdup to right-of-way negotiations with a nearby oil refinery, whose pipes run through the construction site.

Completion of the project will also end a decade of delays by Caltrans, which had the work on the back burner before finally turning it over to ACTA in July 2001.

"It's a very important project and we've worked very closely with our partners to bring it forward," said Deborah Harris, a Caltrans spokeswoman.

Yeager Skanska Inc. is under contract to complete the PCH grade separation by March 1, 2004. Failure to complete two of the three lanes in each direction by the deadline will mean penalties of $10,000 per day imposed upon Yeager. (The third lane on each side must be completed by summer 2004.)

"There is a significant disincentive for delivering the project late," said Phil Hampton, an ACTA spokesman.

The grade separation will come in the form of a half-mile bridge over Alameda Street, the corridor rail and an adjacent branch rail line. Vehicles will be detoured around construction using Terminal Island Freeway, Sepulveda Boulevard, Alameda Street, Colon Street and Coil Avenue.

ACTA and Caltrans officials will add turn lanes and synchronize traffic signals on those roads to keep traffic moving as steadily as possible.

Yet even with those improvements, ACTA officials said motorists should expect noticeable delays particularly during peak hours in getting around construction and back onto PCH.

Los Angeles Police Department cruisers will be ticketing container trucks using neighborhood streets instead of the designated detour roads.

Work will be funded by Caltrans ($79 million), ACTA ($14 million) and the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority ($14 million.)

The funding agreement and the decision for ACTA to take over was reached in 2001 during what Hahn described as a "tense" meeting between city and county elected officials and ACTA and Caltrans staff.

"It was really a breach of faith," said Hahn of Caltrans' delays. "That they had that project for a decade and didn't get anything done really shows this is an agency that's slower than some city bureaucracies."

Caltrans was originally charged with overseeing the grade separation project because PCH is a state highway.

The Los Angeles Department of Public Works was brought on board in 1993 to design a mile-long bridge using a portion of the $74 million the state appropriated for the project six years earlier.

No intersection along the corridor handles more vehicle traffic than PCH at Alameda Street. Yet Caltrans delayed the project, despite pleas from ACTA and state legislators. Over the course of time, inflation drove the costs of the project up to the current $107 million.

The economic impact is expected to be minimal because only a handful of businesses exist in that section of PCH.

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