L.A. looking to spend billions to improve traffic

Traffic improvements

The way in which people travel to, from and around the San Fernando Valley will significantly transform over the next three decades.

The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority and other agencies are set to pour billions of dollars into beefing up bus and rail lines, freeways and bikeways. The result will better link Valley residents to each other and connect L.A.’s northernmost regions with the rest of the city.

Four options

This is a glimpse into the future of transportation to and from the Valley:

1. A Valley-to-Westside bus line that uses I-405’s carpool or shoulder lanes

Projected completion date: One option could launch between June and year’s end. Other options would take more time.

Why it’s needed: It can take an hour to drive from Sherman Oaks to Santa Monica during rush-hour traffic and more than two hours via public transportation. In 2010, the U.S. Department of Transportation listed I-405 as the busiest urban highway in America and the third-most congested. The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority said traffic is expected to increase from its current volume of 331,000 vehicles per day to 430,000 by 2030.

The proposal: Next month, the last leg of I-405’s northbound carpool lane is set to open, marking the completion of a five-year, $1.1 billion Metro project that created high-occupancy vehicle lanes in both directions between I-10 and the 101. Now, Metro is eyeing a way for buses to take advantage of that new space.

County Supervisor and Metro board member Zev Yaroslavsky recently asked the board to study the possibility of launching bus line 788 – a peak-hour express bus that would run from Panorama City, south on Van Nuys Boulevard, then travel west, parallel to the Orange Line, before running nonstop on I-405 to Westwood.

But those buses would still enter the freeway using regular on-ramps and operate in mixed traffic with motorists. If the carpool lanes and ramps also are congested, bus 788 would be stuck, as well. That’s why Metro also is considering a plan that calls for the agency to build direct-access ramps for buses, which would provide direct access to bus-only lanes. A second plan would allow buses to use freeway shoulder lanes during peak hours.

Funding: Nothing has been budgeted for a new bus line to launch in 2014.

What’s next: Yaroslavsky asked the board to report on its findings about bus line 788 at the board’s May 22 meeting.

2. A tunnel under the Santa Monica Mountains

Projected completion date: Metro’s long-range plan lists the opening year as 2039 because funding for the project won’t be available for at least another 14 years. But if the agency partners with private companies to build the tunnel, the project could be completed much sooner.

Why it’s needed: The Santa Monica Mountains are without a doubt the greatest impediment to fluid travel from the San Fernando Valley to the L.A. Basin, with only a few passes and canyons slitting through the divide. As the Valley population continues to grow, improvements to public transportation on and along I-405 likely won’t provide enough options for those crossing the hills.

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