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We need another way out of this place

Posted: November 22, 2008 7:36 p.m.
Updated: November 23, 2008 4:55 a.m.

The Newhall Pass, the only direct southern route in and out of the Santa Clarita Valley, was shut down as the Sayre Fire jumped Interstate 5 and Highway 14.

How many more wake-up calls do we need? We have had two earthquakes - 1971 and 1994 - shutting down the Interstate 5 and Highway 14 freeways.

The southbound I-5 truck tunnel fire and even the recent watermelon spill on southbound I-5 at Roxford Street effectively shut down the 5 and 14 freeways.

And this month once again we have had fires that have completely shut down the I-5 from Highway 126 to the 405 freeway, as well as Highway 14, Sierra Highway and The Old Road.

Unfortunately, over the past 30 years we have seen our elected officials at all levels cave in to the environmental "extremist" lobby and the NIMBYS.

Former Gov. Jerry Brown set the stage for these traffic disasters at the state level, but local elected officials were equally responsible for the state not being able to complete the Freeway and Expressway System.

That system, established by the Legislature in the 1950s to meet the region's transportation needs into the 1980s, has only been about 65 percent completed.

If the elected officials had done their jobs and completed the Route 2 Glendale Freeway to Palmdale, we wouldn't be experiencing much of the additional traffic from the Antelope Valley area that is currently on Highway 14.

We are now paying the price, in a big way, for the state's shortsightedness. Key portions of both Route 2 and Highway 14 have not been pursued as freeways or arterials by previous legislators lacking both courage and foresight.

To further complicate, muddle and politicize matters, the Legislature has effectively given the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority control over key decision-making processes.

A very large share of the transportation funds in L.A. County have gone to subways and other forms of transit, not to freeway improvements.

One only has to look at the "Stone Age" six-lane Santa Ana Freeway in Los Angeles County versus its 12-lane counterpart in Orange County.

We need, as a minimum, a route over the Santa Susana Mountains between the central San Fernando Valley and the west side of the Santa Clarita Valley.

In addition, a tunnel extending San Fernando Road in Newhall through to Roxford Street in Sylmar on the east side of the SCV is also needed.

Although never constructed, that portion of Highway 14 from Pacific Coast Highway near Sunset Boulevard to the 5/14/210 interchange near Sylmar is still on the official Freeway and Expressway System.

With a little adjustment in alignment, that route could run northerly from the Reseda Boulevard area over the Santa Susana Mountains to several possible connections such as Rice Canyon, Towsley Canyon or the proposed Pico Canyon extension near the Mentryville area. Or there are other options.

Again, how many wake-up calls do we need? The connections "over the hills," whether conventional highways, expressways or whatever, are a must if the San Fernando and Santa Clarita valleys and state commerce are to continue to prosper.

While the I-5 urgently needs the planned widening and truck lanes presently undergoing the environmental and planning process, alternate routes to address the disasters that will no doubt occur at the "jugular vein" intersection of I-5 and Highway 14 with the 210 and 405 freeways are desperately needed.

Does anyone have the courage to lead a coalition of legislators and elected officials who understand the needs as well as the potential crises that await us if this is not finally addressed?

Charles J. O'Connell is retired deputy director of the California Department of Transportation. His column reflects his own views, not necessarily those of The Signal.


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