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Santa Monica Boulevard Project Months Behind Schedule

Completion of the Santa Monica Boulevard reconstruction project has been delayed another two months, to May 2006, and cost overruns have been pushed past $10 million.


The latest delays are being blamed on last winter’s heavy rains. Originally, the project’s planners had anticipated finishing construction next month.


Meanwhile, the ongoing construction is raising tempers among several Westside homeowner groups, which contend that the city is building a different project than approved.


In a July 14 letter signed by Tract 7260, the Westwood South of Santa Monica Association and the Westwood Homeowners Association, there are demands for 20 changes, ranging from small road repairs to removing electronic, freeway-style signs. The groups have asked the planners to respond by July 18.


The massive project involves realigning a 2.5-mile stretch of “Little” and “Big” Santa Monica Boulevards between the San Diego (405) Freeway and the border of Beverly Hills. With the two roadways combined, the finished boulevard will sport four lanes in each direction.


Before the most recent weather disruptions, the $77.5 million project had been fraught with delays and overruns caused by having to unexpectedly relocate underground utilities.


To quicken the pace of construction, project spokeswoman Tonya Durrell said some contractors were working longer hours.


In addition, a lane of traffic in each direction has been closed for several weeks, with the expectation of finishing construction along a section of the boulevard’s commercial core by November. But that has made traffic even worse.


Before construction began, there were about 40,000 cars a day traveling on Santa Monica Boulevard near the Beverly Hills border and 50,000 cars passing near the entrance to the San Diego Freeway, according to the Los Angeles Department of Transportation.


That ranks Santa Monica Boulevard as among the busiest thoroughfares in Los Angeles, according to Glenn Ogura, a principal transportation engineer with the Los Angeles DOT. When the project is complete, Ogura said the department would be monitoring the boulevard to determine how traffic volumes change.


“It’s probably safe to assume it’ll go up,” he said. “That goes for traffic citywide, too. Unless people get out of their cars, traffic volume everywhere will never decrease.”


Neighborhood groups are complaining that there have been numerous adjustments to the original plan, such as the addition of freeway-style signs and the possible addition of advertising on bus stops and benches.


“This project has serious flaws that must be resolved,” said Mike Eveloff, president of Tract 7260. “We are providing them a list of fixes that we feel must be made.”


Eveloff said a lawsuit may be necessary to force planners to follow the original plans.


Durrell said city officials have been meeting with the disgruntled neighborhood groups, noting that the project’s coordinators have always taken community input into consideration.


“It’s the largest street improvement project ever undertaken by the Department of Public Works,” said Durrell. “Some neighbors are concerned about how long construction has gone on, but a great many people are happy with the project and are looking forward to its completion.”


Durrell said no changes have been made since the plans were announced in late 2000, including the freeway-style signs.


It’s likely advertising on bus shelters and benches will be allowed, although that proposal is still under consideration and being coordinated with the office of Councilman Jack Weiss, whose district includes the reconstruction project.


“Our office believes the (advertising) issue is yet to be resolved,” said Weiss spokeswoman Lisa Hansen. “We haven’t had the necessary meetings to come to a decision.”


Residents want two electronic message signs removed because they worry motorists who are warned of congestion will use side streets to cut through their neighborhoods.


One sign is planned on the westbound side of Santa Monica Boulevard in Century City, between Moreno Drive and Century Park East. The other sign is planned for eastbound Santa Monica Boulevard between Sepulveda Boulevard and Bentley Avenue.

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