From Summer 2010:
By Tim Whyte
“Pinch me,” would be an understandable reaction from a motorist
who’s told the much-anticipated improvements to Interstate 5 are on their way. “Is it real?”
As far as anyone can tell, yes, it is.
“Our optimism has to remain cautious, because of obvious variables including the economy and potential fluctuations in sales tax revenue,” says Victor Lindenheim, executive director of the Golden State Gateway Coalition. “However, with recent developments, including Metro’s programming of future Measure R funds for the I-5 Los Angeles-Santa Clarita Gateway Improvement Project, we have every reason to believe help is on the way for everyone who relies on Interstate 5 in northern Los Angeles County.”
The pieces of the puzzle are certainly falling into place. The environmental studies for the Gateway Improvement Project have been completed, and a “finding of no significant impact” has been rendered by the state. Funding has been identified and design is under way for the first major phase, the construction of truck lanes between the Newhall Pass and Lyons Avenue. Work is under way to do the same for the subsequent phases, consisting of high occupancy vehicle lanes and additional truck lanes.
Leaders of the Golden State Gateway Coalition say they appreciate efforts by Caltrans and Los Angeles County Metro staff and leadership, and the support of coalition members and elected officials at local, county, state and national levels.
Metro, in fact, completed a key step toward the construction of the first truck lanes phase in April when it programmed funding for its recently adopted Long Range Transportation Plan, which includes $56 million in future Measure R sales tax revenue to help fund Phase 1 of the Gateway Improvement Project.
“Metro’s support of this project has been a major key, every step of the way,” said Tom DiPrima, chairman of the Gateway Coalition. “With Metro, Caltrans, the Coalition and our other partners in this project, we are seeing multi-organization teamwork at its best.”
Metro’s funding allotment followed an allocation by the California Transportation Commission, which approved a $75 million State Highway Operation and Protection Plan (SHOPP) allotment for the I-5 Gateway Improvement Project last year.
Doug Failing has watched the project wind its way through the process from two perspectives, first when he was director of District 7 for Caltrans and now in his current role as Metro’s executive director of highway programs. He said the most recent progress is especially gratifying.
“Metro recognizes the importance of the Interstate 5 Los Angeles-Santa Clarita Gateway Improvement Project, not only for northern Los Angeles County but also for the entire region,” Failing said. “As a result, Metro is proud of what we have been able to accomplish to help move the project forward, and we are optimistic that the rest of the pieces of the puzzle will continue to fall in place to bring these much-needed truck lanes and HOV lanes to the I-5.”
Failing added that the leaders who have been working on the project are just as excited as any commuter, traveler or truck driver to see the project come to life.
“Significant progress has been made toward bringing the project to fruition, and like all those who traverse the I-5 every day, we are eagerly anticipating these improvements.”
With funding identified, environmental clearance received and the Phase 1 truck lanes in design, it’s now expected that construction bids could be sought as soon as May 2011, with construction possibly beginning in late 2011 and the Phase 1 truck lanes opening in late 2013 or early 2014.
“Again, we’re advocating cautious optimism,” Lindenheim said. “But the indicators at this point are all positive.”
Assuming all moves forward as planned, motorists can expect to see construction under way late next year — and, with it, some short-term pain in the form of necessary closures to accommodate construction — followed by the long-term rewards of improved traffic flow and increased driver sanity.
“Yes,” you might tell yourself, “It IS for real.”