Why is it taking so long?


By on Mon, May 21, 2012

I had the pleasure of driving around the Los Angeles area over the weekend as part of a self-developed theater tour.  I was surprised at the relative lack of congestion (OK, the southbound Santa Ana freeway leaving downtown has always had issues), and by the remarkable amount of construction in progress on Southern California’s freeway system.

Meanwhile, up here in God’s country, it still takes 20 minutes to get through Pacifica in the morning, same as it did when I moved here 10 years ago. I’m sure it’s been backed up there for much longer than that.  In 2006, I attended a scoping meeting for the EIR that was supposed to lead to widening SR1 between Fassler & Reina del Mar.  Compared to what’s going on down south, this is a very cheap and small project.  Yet, here we are 6 years later, and nothing has been done.

When it comes to solving traffic problems, what’s Southern California got that we don’t have?

Steve Lowens

Southern California has two things that we don’t have:
1.  A heckofa lot more people.
2.  It’s not in Caltrans District 4.

1 out every 3 people living in the State of California lives in L.A. County!  More than 1/5 of the cities in California are in L.A. County!  Better that all those people are there than here.  But it also means that it’s more necessary and appropriate to spend more money there.

I go to L.A. a few times a year, and I don’t think that I agree with the characterization of lack of congestion.  Some of the freeways are not as bad as 20 years ago (double-decking the Harbor freeway on the south side of Downtown helped), but surface streets are all much much much worse.

If the Pacifica trip takes the same amount of time today as 10 years ago, that’s good, because I’m sure that traffic from the Midcoast including Half Moon Bay and from Pacifica has increased significantly in those 10 years.  When I moved here in 1994, I could pick up my boss at the north end of HMB at 8:25 and we’d be walking in the door at Stanford at 9:00.  I understand that to get there by 9 am today one must leave here before 8 am.  Today there are probably about 500 more houses in the unincorporated Midcoast and maybe the same increment in HMB compared to 1994.  SR 1 -> SR 92 traffic is now at least as bad every day as it was during the SR 1 closure at Devil’s Slide in 1995.

Anyway, adding a lane to SR 1 in that section of Pacifica is a loser.  The only solution for evening traffic would be an overpass from South (SW) SR 1 -> East (SE) Fassler.  It doesn’t need to be a full-blown 8-way interchange, just this single ramp will solve the evening commute problem.  Since I’m basically never there in the morning, I don’t know what’s needed to improve the morning northbound SR 1 traffic.  But in the evening commute, the problem very clearly is the large number of vehicles backed up waiting to turn left from SR 1 onto Fassler, which causes a jam-up all the way back up to the Sharp’s Park Blvd interchange.  Without a way to move more vehicles / hour through that left turn, it would take a lot more than 1 additional lane to keep the SR 1 through traffic flowing.

Next time you’re in Southern California, go check out the intersection of Sepulveda and 98th (one of the main entrances to LAX.)  Last time I was over there, I counted Sepulveda as 18 lanes at 98th!  18 lanes!  And it’s one of the most congested intersections I’ve ever seen.

The problem at SR 1 and Fassler isn’t lack of road capacity—it’s lack of intersection capacity.  Any traffic engineer who doesn’t understand that needs to turn in his traffic engineer title.

Leonard nails it. It is not the number of lanes in Pacifica where the highway is slow going in the morning and evening commute, it is intersection management—especially at Vallemar and Fassler. Widen the highway as the county and Caltrans are trying to do, and you get three-lane backups in each direction instead of two-lane backups. Because of this, people who have been dealing with Pacifica traffic for decades object to the unnecessary widening, with the damage to several businesses and other property it entails, and that means it takes the roadbuilders and their free-spending political and bureaucratic cronies longer to force their way on the road.

And anyone who doesn’t think development to the max, including zoning-violating residential building, in the quarry is not a factor in the road-widening attempt must have been born yesterday on this kind of issue.