FIFTH STREET‚Äî Expo Light Rail is expected to relieve Santa Monica‚Äôs traffic problems but not this week.
Several sections of Fifth Street around Colorado Avenue and the connecting Interstate 10 off-ramp are closed through Tuesday, Jan. 28, while crews work 24-hour shifts installing track.
It will likely be the “most impactive” Expo closure in terms of creating traffic, said Sam Morrissey, City Hall‚Äôs principal transportation engineer.
City Hall will restripe the lanes of the westbound off-ramp, allowing two lanes of traffic to make a right on Fourth Street, he said. Six police officers will be out at various impacted intersections helping to direct traffic. City Hall is modifying the timing of the traffic signals at Fourth Street and Colorado Avenue to ease some of the gridlock.
“We have signs on the freeway as far back as Cloverfield [Boulevard] trying to encourage people to get off at Lincoln or Cloverfield,” he said. “Honestly, we see a lot of traffic coming at Fourth and Fifth Street just because people like to get off as close as they can to their destinations.”
While this week may be the commuter‚Äôs first introduction to Expo‚Äôs traffic impacts, some local businesses have been feeling it for weeks.
It‚Äôs lunchtime at Fritto Misto, a restaurant on the corner of Colorado and Sixth, and all but one of the tables are empty.
“Just look,” said Melinda Amaya, director of operations, pointing to the tables. “It‚Äôs been bad.”
Fritto Misto, which has been in business for 23 years, has lost about one-third of its lunch crowd since the start of major construction on Colorado several weeks ago.
“We had to try to shield our customers from the sound of the jack-hammers going outside,” she said. “Our regulars don‚Äôt know how to get to us with all the construction.”
Parking meters on Colorado were ripped out a few weeks ago. Employees circle the block looking for spaces every two hours. Diners struggle to park, and even reliable take-out customers have stopped coming by, she said.
City Hall has responded by adjusting the on-street parking meters in the areas near the construction, said Jason Harris, economic development manager.
They reach out to local businesses, he said, to address concerns about access and signage.
On Feb. 18, City Hall will host its next mixer for businesses along the rail corridor, Harris said, providing information about the construction.
The restaurant gets notices that the water is going to be shut off but the times and dates are too vague, Amaya said.
When new apartment buildings were going in across the street the owners would check in with little gifts every once in a while, Amaya said. The Expo construction folks haven‚Äôt been as kind, she said, pointing to the dusty exterior.
“They need to clean our building,” she said.
Still, Amaya is supportive of the incoming train.
“I know it‚Äôs going to be great,” she said.
The next major construction impact is in April when Lincoln Boulevard at Colorado Avenue will be closed for seven days, Morrissey said.
“That will be less impactive because it‚Äôs not directly tied to a freeway ramp and there are more options for getting around the area,” he said.
Fifth Street will be closed in both directions at Colorado Avenue. Right turns from northbound Fifth will allow for local traffic only. Westbound Colorado will be closed at Fifth. The Fifth Street westbound freeway off-ramp will be closed but the Fourth Street off-ramp will remain open.
Expo will update residents about the progress of the construction at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 21, at Crossroads School.