DOWNEY - Built more than 50 years ago, the seven-mile stretch of the 5 Freeway from the I-605 to the Orange County line has provided motorists with everything from headaches to panic attacks over the last few decades.Traveled by roughly 178,000 commuters everyday, the Santa Ana Freeway is unarguably one of the most congested freeways in America, but Caltrans is hoping to ease the bumper to bumper grind through south Los Angeles County with a $1.6 billion improvement project, which will widen the busy segment over the next five years. "The goal of the project is to mitigate the bottleneck along the I-5 corridor and push the carpool lane towards Downtown Los Angeles," said Caltrans project manager Emad Gorgy. "We're going to divide the corridor into six sections and the existing lanes will be expanded to 10 lanes across, like the section of the I-5 in Orange County." Starting with the Carmenita Road interchange, the widening project will replace the existing three general purpose lanes with five lanes, four general purpose lanes and one carpool lane. As a result, Downey, along with the surrounding communities of Norwalk, Santa Fe Springs, La Mirada, and Cerritos are preparing to lose both residential and commercial properties as the freeway expands. According to the Downey public works department, 12 homes in northeast Downey will be impacted by the widening freeway, which will overtake Dollison Drive and turn several streets in the area into cul-de-sacs. Florence Avenue, one of the major frontage roads along the I-5 Freeway, will also be widened to accommodate another lane, which is expected to help ease traffic along the overcrossing from Studebaker Road to Orr and Day Road. Overall, nearly 440 parcels will be impacted by the freeway widening, but Caltrans officials believe the expansion will ultimately help relieve current and future congestion, improving traffic flow for motorists entering Los Angeles County from the Orange County line. "This is the largest expansion of the I-5 that we're going to see in our lifetime," said Maria Rapis, a spokeswoman for Caltrans. "The freeway is old, we've out grown it. These improvements will help us accommodate future increases in population and traffic." Rapis maintains that the widening project, funded by federal, state and local grant money, will provide commuters traveling north and southbound on the I-5 an easier, smoother and less congested transition. Caltrans anticipates the freeway improvements will also improve air quality, reduce traffic noise, enhance driver safety, and encourage ridesharing. Over the next five years, eighteen structures, including bridges, ramps, pedestrian overcrossings, and frontage roads adjacent to the freeway, will undergo reconstruction, relocation or upgrades. Six interchanges altogether from Valley View Avenue to Florence Avenue will be reconfigured, beginning with the most complex interchange at Carmenita Road. The $380 million project, which began in late September, will replace the existing two-lane steel overpass with a 10-lane concrete structure, which officials hope will help mitigate present and future bridge traffic while reducing delays. Improvements at the other five interchanges, which include Alondra Avenue, Valley View Avenue, Imperial Highway, Rosecrans Avenue, and Florence Avenue, will include bridge expansions also, along with upgrades to frontage roads and the reconstruction of many pedestrian overcrossings and ramps. "There are going to be general impacts. There will be noise, dust, temporary closures and detours, which should be expected," said Gorgy. "We cannot eliminate this, but we spend a lot of effort and funds to minimize the impact." The Alondra Avenue Bridge project is expected to begin early next year. By 2013, all six projects will be under construction. Caltrans officials anticipate construction will conclude in 2016.
********** Published: November 24, 2011 - Volume 10 - Issue 32