By Steve Scauzillo, December 6, 2013
Motorists drive on the 5 Freeway as construction continues for the
freeway expansion near the Carmenita bridge in Santa Fe Springs on
Monday, November 25, 2013.
Pick a live traffic map, any app. Click the 5 Freeway in southeast Los Angeles County. You will be seeing red.
don’t care if you use SigAlert, Google maps or Caltrans’ QuickMap, that
area is always red. Why? It’s here where the freeway is three lanes,”
explained John Yang, the new I-5 construction manager for Caltrans,
pointing to the seven-mile bottleneck stretching from the 605 Freeway to
the Orange County line.
Caltrans began the widening project in
2012, but construction activity will intensify starting Monday. The
project will add two lanes to the 5 Freeway in each direction: four
mixed-flow lanes plus one HOV or car-pool lane.
Having five lanes each way is the proverbial gold at the end of the construction rainbow.
three lanes each way is not moving very quickly,” said Yvette Kirrin,
executive director and engineer for the I-5 Consortium Cities Joint Powers Authority.
Almost any time of the day,
24/7, Yang said, traffic on this stretch of the 5 Freeway is below 20
mph (red) or slightly faster at 25 mph (orange). The goal of the
$1.6-billion widening project is to raise that traffic speed
significantly for the section’s 220,000 daily riders.
Besides the 5 Freeway, the project will increase the chances for
major freeway expansions along the 605 and 710 freeways, experts said.
Designs for I-5 widening from the 605 to the 710 freeways into Commerce,
Montebello and East Los Angeles are underway, said Noe Negrete,
director of public works for Santa Fe Springs. But mostly, this southern
I-5 corridor project restores the 5 Freeway as the preeminent
north-south corridor in the West, as well as a major route for goods
traveling between the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach and points
south and east.
“The 5 Freeway has served a vital role connecting all of
California,” said Steve Finnegan, government affairs manager for the
Automobile Club of Southern California. “It runs from the Canadian
border to the Mexican border. It is probably the most important highway
corridor in the western United States.”
The Consortium Cities,
made up of Buena Park, Commerce, Downey, La Mirada, Norwalk and Santa Fe
Springs, has been working on getting their neck of the freeway widened
for 22 years. They’ve tried to reduce the number of houses and
businesses that have been affected or purchased by Caltrans, while
helping residents navigate detours and street closures for the next four
Caltrans estimates the bulk of the construction will take place
starting Monday and continue until late 2017 or early 2018, when the
project is expected to be finished. Also on Monday, Caltrans will close
Firestone Boulevard until April.
Many look at the 10-plus lanes on
the Orange County portion between Buena Park and Santa Ana and say: Why
can’t L.A. County do that? Some say L.A. County is embarrassed by the
O.C., which finished its I-5 widening project in 2005 — a segment marked
by green bars all the way beyond Disneyland until the Orange Crush.
“Clearly, Orange County made a decision to invest in their
portion of I-5 and created a world-class freeway. Unfortunately, it has
taken a long time for L.A. County to catch up,” Finnegan said.
and others traveling to and from Orange County beaches, Disneyland or
Angel Stadium of Anaheim are struck by the stark difference in the
freeway lanes and conditions once they enter La Mirada and start
applying the brakes.
“You see a modern facility dead-ending at the county line, hitting a facility that was built in the 1950s,” Finnegan said.
Since Orange County widened its segment, the bottleneck starts at
La Mirada in the south end. It has literally put the small bedroom
community on the map.
“We’ll gladly give up the free
advertisements on the news when they say traffic is stuck in La Mirada,”
said the town’s mayor, Steve DeRuse. “This is something that should
have been done 10 years ago right after what was done in Orange County.”
Funding was temporarily removed from the project twice during the past five years, adding to delays, Negrete said.
Critics say mass transit is a more efficient and cost-effective
option because it moves more people per mile than single-occupancy
vehicles on a freeway. They say adding freeway lanes in car-happy
Southern California doesn’t move the needle away from gridlock.
is no panacea in adding lanes. This just moves the congestion around.
They’ll just have another choke point somewhere else,” said Bart Reed,
executive director of the Transit Coalition, a San Fernando Valley-based
group that supports trains, buses and car-pool lanes instead of
“People always criticize the high-speed rail project because of
the cost. But no one ever criticizes road projects,” he noted, saying
Angelenos are brainwashed by the dominant car culture.
than mass transit advocates, you won’t find many people complaining
about the money spent on the freeway widening. Most of the complaints
will come from nearby residents who find surface streets and major
arterials blocked. Ironically, traffic on the freeway itself may move a
little quicker now that off-ramps for Pioneer Boulevard and Alondra
Boulevard are already closed. Caltrans is building higher and wider
bridges to fit the new, wider freeway.
In January, Caltrans begins a major segment, the Florence Avenue
project in Downey and Santa Fe Springs. In mid-2014, it will start the
last leg, the Valley View Avenue interchange in La Mirada. In all six of
the I-5 improvement segments, bridges and streets will be widened, new
off- and on-ramps constructed as well as new frontage roads. The six
segments from north to south are: Florence Avenue Interchange; Imperial
Highway, Pioneer Boulevard and San Antonio Drive bridges; Rosecrans
Avenue and Bloomfield Avenue bridges; Carmenita Road Interchange;
Alondra Boulevard Bridge, and the Valley View Avenue Interchange.
The cities of Santa Fe Springs, Downey, Commerce and La Mirada are
bracing for the expected delays and detours, not to mention construction
dust and noise.
Crews will be in Santa Fe Springs for the next
two years, and Negrete knows he’ll hear the complaints. He told a group
gathered at the Town Center last month that everyone in town will be
But like other cities in the construction zone, they are
willing to suffer through years of delays for a wider, faster-moving
“I’m looking for somebody to host a block party in 2016,” Negrete jokingly told the audience.
La Mirada won’t see relief until 2018, since its segment is the last to be done.
one company told the mayor it had planned on relocating to La Mirada
but decided not to because of the coming construction.
“Still, we feel the outcome will be positive,” DeRuse said.
project means that for the first time, Orange and Los Angeles counties
will be properly connected along the 5 Freeway, the Auto Club’s Finnegan
That connection has become more important during the last
30 years as commuting routes have switched. Now, Orange County draws
more workers who commute.
“More recently, statistics show more people who live in Los
Angeles County commute to jobs in Orange County than the reverse,”
Whichever way the traffic flows along the 5, one thing is certain: It gets jammed when cars squeeze into three lanes.
“It will be awesome for our communities,” said Norwalk City Councilman
Mike Mendez, who has chaired the I-5 Consortium Cities Joint Powers
Authority for 22 years and lobbied for the widening project in
Washington, D.C., for a quarter-century. “It will be a win-win for