Road Work Ahead – Expect Delays

Ten years of planning have finally culminated in an onslaught of road construction projects on Imperial Highway in La Habra. By the end of the year we should have a shiny new street, but the immediate effect has been the opposite. Lanes are closed, traffic is often clogged, driveways are blocked making access to some businesses challenging, and bus stops have been eliminated. Shop owners have told me off the record that their business is down.

Driveway to Vons at the corner of Beach Boulevard and Imperial Highway is closed due to construction, April 21, 2010 (photo credit: Cindy Cotter)

While stuck in eastbound traffic, I watched a truck trying to make a sharp left turn out of the Von’s parking lot onto the only westbound lane left open on Imperial Highway, just east of Beach Boulevard. He was dragging an orange cone with one of his right rear wheels while he rolled his left front tire over the median strip.

This fallen sign announced the closure of one of La Mirada's Line 4 bus stops due to construction of a sound wall on Imperial Highway. (photo credit: Cindy Cotter)

Widening Imperial Highway

The biggest job underway is the widening of Imperial Highway. Right now it narrows from three lanes in both directions to only two as it passes through the busy commercial area near Beach. It will be widened to three lanes for the full length of its transit through La Habra. Right-turn lanes and double left-turn lanes are being added, and new traffic signals will be installed.

Workmen are building a new right turn lane from Beach Boulevard onto westbound Imperial Highway in La Habra, Februay 4, 2010. The lane has since been completed. (photo credit: Cindy Cotter)

The new right turn lane from Beach to westbound Imperial is done. This photo was taken April 1, 2010. (photo credit: Cindy Cotter)

But there’s more to widening a busy street than you might at first expect. There are phone lines, traffic signals, electrical connections and storm drains. Sam Makar, senior civil engineer with the City of La Habra, said the city got easements from 65 property owners, some for right of way, and some for construction, allowing workers to put materials and equipment on private property near their work-site.

Mike Harrington, a contractor with AT&T moves phone lines a few feet back from Idaho Street just north of Imperial Highway. April 22, 2010 (photo credit: Cindy Cotter)

Makar said the contract with the construction company sets December 2010 as the deadline for completion of the work, but the city hopes it will be done by Labor Day, September 6, because Caltrans wants to begin repaving by then.

Workmen are preparing for new traffic signals at the intersection of Idaho Street and Imperial Highway on February 24, 2010 (photo credit: Cindy Cotter)

The fire hydrant has just been moved a few feet to make room for widening Imperial Highway, April 22, 2010 (photo credit: Cindy Cotter)

Smart Streets andMeasure M

The Imperial Highway improvements are part of the Smart Streets Program created by the Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA) and funded by Measure M.

Planners throughout southern California have grappled for years with the difficulty of meeting growing transportation needs in a developed region where adding new freeways is difficult if not impossible. One solution has been to find ways to increase the capacity of surface streets. Orange County’s Smart Streets program is one example of that approach.

In 1992, Orange County voters approved Measure M which increased the sales tax by half a cent until 2011. Most of Measure M funds are dedicated to freeway improvement, but 21% of the funds are intended for street improvements, including Smart Streets.

Harry Thomas, Project Manager of Local Programs for OCTA, said the concept of Smart Streets originated in the 1980’s when OCTA defined an interconnected network of 21 streets in Orange County that already carried significant traffic. (They were originally called Super Streets, but the name was changed in 1993.) The plan was to improve traffic flow on those streets by widening them to 6 lanes, providing dual left turn lanes and exclusive right turn lanes, and coordinating traffic signals.

Of the 21 designated Super Streets, there was enough money (a combination of Measure M funds, Caltrans funds and developer fees) for only four, Beach Boulevard (completed in 1999), Katella Avenue, Moulton Parkway (which goes by several names in different locations) and Imperial Highway. Two projects on Moulton and two on Imperial Highway (one in La Habra and one in Brea) are still underway.

Measure M expires in 2011. A renewed Measure M (Measure M2) was passed in 2007, but Thomas said it doesn’t include funding for Smart Streets.

Sound Walls

Measure M includes funds for mitigation projects intended to offset the environmental damage caused by transportation development. In this case sound walls are being built in residential neighborhoods along Imperial Highway west of Beach Boulevard to shield homes from road noise. They have been largely completed on the north side of the street, but the south side remains to be done.

Construction of a sound wall on Imperial Highway at Cajon Drive on December 31, 2009. (photo credit: Cindy Cotter)

One resident, who preferred to remain anonymous, told me he was happy with the sound wall. He lost his view of the Westridge Golf Club, but his property is quieter now. He only wishes it had been done sooner. Over the past ten years he’s attended half a dozen meetings held by the city to discuss the project with residents. The walls are on homeowner property, so it was up to them to vote on whether they wanted a wall and how high it would be.

Concrete is mixed on the spot for construction of a soundwall. Photo taken February 24, 2010 from the sidewalk by Joghurt Frozen Yogurt Haus on Imperial west of Beach (photo credit: Cindy Cotter)

The sloping strip of land between the wall and the highway also belongs to individual homeowners. The heavy mixed growth of brush, trees and weeds that once grew there has been largely denuded by the construction process. Some homeowners requested a gap in the wall to allow them access to the slope. In other cases there’s no gate in the homeowner’s wall and no sidewalk along the street, making it very difficult for a resident to maintain the strip. It was hydroseeded after the city was cited for mud running off the slope during recent rains, but so far, Makar said, there’s no plan for what sort of landscaping might be done when construction is complete.

Intelligent Traffic Signals

One feature often included in the definition of a Smart Street is technology that does real-time data sampling of traffic flow and adjusts traffic signals accordingly, thus eliminating the frustrating experience of having to wait at a red light for non-existent cross traffic. Makar said intelligent traffic signals are not part of the current work on Imperial Highway, but they are planned for the future.

Measure M2 doesn’t fund smart streets, but it does include money for traffic signal synchronization. Thomas said that OCTA should have a Master Plan for Traffic Signal Synchronization by April, 2011. It will provide a framework for cooperation among cities, which will be a requirement for any city seeking funds for intelligent signals.

But Wait, There’s More…

A woman walks along Imperial Highway in a narrow lane separated from traffic by white barriers while a new, wider sidewalk is being constructed over Coyote Creek on Imperial Highway just west of Beach Boulevard (photo credit: Cindy Cotter)

The turmoil you see in the vicinity of Beach and Imperial is not all due to Smart Street work. Other projects have added to the confusion. Caltrans recently finished improvements to the sidewalk on Beach Boulevard where it crosses over Coyote Creek just north of Imperial Highway, and La Habra is now widening the sidewalk on Imperial Highway just west of Beach Boulevard overlooking the creek. Construction of a bike path along Coyote Creek on the south side of Imperial Highway has closed the right lane on eastbound Imperial Highway east of Idaho.



Filed under Government Services

3 responses to “Road Work Ahead – Expect Delays

  1. Judy Merry

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