COLORADO AVE — Congestion from the Exposition Light Rail Line construction here has become a hazard at some intersections as frustrated drivers make risky moves to beat the traffic.
The Daily Press, which is close to the Expo Line’s terminus at Fourth Street and Colorado Avenue, has seen drivers making illegal left turns and blocking intersections. Pedestrians too have made questionable decisions, crossing streets when they’re not supposed to because cars are backed up.
The construction is centered on one of the crucial thoroughfares in the city: Colorado Avenue, from 17th Street to Fifth Street.
On any given day during rush hour, traffic is backed up several car lengths onto the Interstate 10 off-ramp at Fifth Street and nearby intersections are jammed when cars are trying to turn left from Colorado onto southbound Fourth Street to get back onto the freeway.
The construction is even having an impact on first responders.
“(Traffic) makes it harder for us to get round town, even as patrol officers,” Lt. Richard Lewis, spokesman for the Santa Monica Police Department, said. “Getting around town is a little tougher. Sometimes it takes us longer to get to calls because of the congestion.”
City officials have recognized the issue and are taking various steps to address the congestion. Some of those measures include extending green lights at certain intersections, such as Fourth and Fifth streets and Colorado, to provide better flow of cars and adding traffic service officers to guide drivers. The Exposition Construction Authority, which is overseeing the rail line, is paying City Hall for the traffic officers, said Sam Morrissey, city traffic engineer.
City officials were asked by the police when construction began at the Fifth Street and Colorado intersection to put in a no-left turn sign to drive traffic away from the construction and funnel it into Downtown.
There’s also been a traffic service officer posted at that intersection from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., Alex Nazarchuk, civil engineer with City Hall, said.
“Some of the concerns we received is when somebody is trying to make a left and there’s no left, it pushes traffic back all toward the highway,” Nazarchuk said.
Getting caught making illegal turns could result in hefty fines.
SMPD Lt. Jay Trisler said there are officers placed on Colorado and in Downtown who are looking for moving violations. There are different numbers of officers depending on the congestion.
Police officers positioned at locations of “high visibility” can serve as a “deterrent” to drivers making illegal maneuvers, Trisler said.
City officials installed bright orange signs on Interstate 10 for the Fourth/Fifth Street exits because drivers were confused on which one to take.
Other mitigation measures include minimizing the impacts on the adjacent intersections on the north and south streets, Morrissey said.
Nazarchuk said there will be lane closures on cross streets off of Colorado Avenue, but only from 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., unless otherwise authorized by City Hall.
Officials are careful not to close two adjacent streets at the same time, especially at Lincoln Boulevard and 11th and 17th streets.
Access to businesses on Colorado Avenue was also taken into consideration by City Hall.
Between 11th and 14th streets, protective paths were added on the south side of the street to make sure people could walk safely, Morrissey said.
Expo Line officials said all construction work related to the future rail line has been closely facilitated with City Hall.
“Everything that is taking place has to be approved by the city before implementation, from traffic control plans to any request to nighttime work,” said Gabriela Collins, government/community relations manager for the Exposition Construction Authority.
Phase 2 of the project costs $1.5 billion, for a total of $2.4 billion for both Phase 1 and 2, Collins said. Phase 2 runs from Culver City to Santa Monica while Phase 1 takes riders from Culver City to Downtown Los Angeles.
Recently, Collins said the contractor installed a concrete barrier between 17th and 14th streets to prep the site for construction for the 17th Street/Santa Monica College Station.
Laying down the rail will start happening this year as well, she said.
The installation of more concrete barriers, between 11th and 14th streets headed toward the Downtown Station, will be happening this fall.
In the future, track will need to be laid down through and across intersections, Morrissey said. That would mean full intersection closures.
So if you plan to drive, be prepared to sit and wait. And don’t think about making that illegal U-turn.