DOWNTOWN — The Interstate 10 exit that brings cars to Fourth Street could be rebuilt to hop over the freeway and tie in to a newly created Olympic Drive.
That’s what one real estate company is proposing.
Centennial Real Estate, which owns a Fifth Street office building (where the Daily Press is located), has studied the feasibility and traffic impacts of the proposed changes.
Both studies came back with positive results, Managing Partner Scott Schonfeld told members of Downtown Santa Monica Inc., a public-private nonprofit that helps manage and market Downtown for City Hall.
The change would consolidate two traffic lights, getting rid of the current Fourth Street off-ramp light and having the new ramp tie-in with the current Fourth Street on-ramp light. It would make traffic better at every surrounding intersection, Schonfeld said. Only the intersection of Fourth and Olympic Drive, which would be reached by two lanes crossing over top of the freeway, could potentially see worse traffic, he said.
The project, which he said would cost in the tens of millions of dollars, could be financed if Caltrans were willing to hand over the land where the current Fourth Street exit is to City Hall. It’s at least an acre of land that could be developed, Schonfeld said.
Planning officials have considered ideas like the “freeway flyover” (as Schonfeld is calling it) and they said they were appreciative that someone else is taking the lead on studying its feasibility.
“Improvements to the Fourth Street ramp are needed. We know that,” said Sam Morrissey, City Hall’s lead traffic engineer. “I think there are positives and negatives to all of this. … The Downtown Specific Plan is looking at a lot of different pieces. I’ve seen this and I do think something like that could be beneficial.”
One of the problems, he said, is the impacts on pedestrian usage at the traffic light.
“Crossing on the east side of Fourth Street, crossing six or seven lanes of travel, that’s a lot of pedestrians crossing, some to Santa Monica High School,” Morrissey said. “It’s a lot of pavement.”
Downtown’s most traffic-heavy intersections are just to the north of the ramps, said consultant Rob York.
“If this starts to feel like Cloverfield (Boulevard) does at peak period, we’re done as a Downtown,” he said. “The locals will abandon us. This is something that has to be looked at. This move actually connects investments that have already been made with Olympic Drive because that just sits by itself right now, and this will drive people who are coming in from the east straight into the Civic Center parking lots.”
Centennial’s property is at the mouth of the Fifth Street exit and is located next to an empty City Hall-owned lot that abuts the incoming Expo Light Rail terminus. Schonfeld called Centennial’s building an eyesore and expressed a desire for the whole area to be revamped for the incoming Expo station.
As discussion shifted from the freeway exits to the area around the station, Schonfeld pointed out that there is nothing — no public bathrooms, food or retail — planned for the station itself.
One Downtown member suggested placing a parking garage next to the station. Another suggested looking into how passengers will get from the station to other parts of the city.
Kathleen Rawson, Downtown Inc. CEO, called the area blighted, but said that it doesn’t need to become a place where people will spend hours.
“You can’t have everything be top notch, just like you can’t have 21-story buildings all along Ocean Avenue,” she said. “You have to have punctuation marks. So I think the main purpose of this particular area Downtown is very utilitarian and it should be utilitarian. It needs to get people in. It needs to get people out.”
With the introduction of Tongva Park and Expo, consultant Doug Suisman said Downtown, which has historically lacked a center, is going through a “massive recentering.” He called the area in question a potential hinge to connect the north and south of the city.
“I think the center boundary of Downtown is going to spill all the way to Olympic and beyond and connect to the north end of Ocean Park,” he said. “Now whether that’s a good thing depends on where your business is, but I think Downtown is going to be redefined despite the legal limits of the business improvement district, which stops at Colorado, and those are the issues that this site raises.”