DOWNEY - Responding to a petition signed by nearly three dozen residents, the City Council on Tuesday unanimously agreed to close a freeway underpass in north Downey that has long been derided by neighborhood residents as a hangout for criminals and vagrants.Thirty-three signatures appear on the petition, which calls for the city to consider closing the underpass at Manzanar Avenue and the 5 Freeway. Residents say the tunnel should be closed "as gangs, criminals and burglars are breaking into vehicles and causing problems in our neighborhood." Crime statistics over the past three years do not "indicate a pattern linking any of the reported crimes to the presence of the underpass," public works officials said, although vandalism and graffiti in the tunnel is common. The city's graffiti removal crew is typically called to the location once a month to pressure wash the tunnel and clean out the trash. Light fixtures have also been broken and stolen, costing the city about $5,000, officials acknowledged. Residents say they have spotted homeless people living in the underpass as well. A city survey found that pedestrian traffic through the tunnel is "relatively light," with 4-7 people using the underpass each hour. The tunnel is not used by students at Gallatin or Unsworth elementary schools, city officials said. The Public Works Committee voted on Dec. 16 to recommend the tunnel's closure, which the City Council agreed to do Tuesday. The tunnel is under the control of Caltrans, prompting Councilman Roger Brossmer to caution it could take up to one year before the underpass is sealed. The underpass was built concurrently with the 5 Freeway in 1961. In addition to providing pedestrian access, the tunnel was also designed as a drainage facility to alleviate flooding in northern neighborhoods. In past years Caltrans had considered constructing an overpass similar to one located at Tweedy Lane and the 5 Freeway, and widening sidewalks on Lakewood Boulevard to meet Americans with Disabilities Act requirements, but neither project moved forward due to cost and "other more pressing priorities." Councilman Fernando Vasquez said the city became aware of residents' displeasure with the tunnel at a recent neighborhood watch meeting.
********** Published: January 27, 2011 - Volume 9 - Issue 41