OCEAN AVE – The California Incline could close for construction as early as March and stayed closed for more than a year.

The current incline — which connects Ocean Avenue, on top of the bluffs, to the Pacific Coast Highway, down below — does not meet seismic standards.

It was built in the 1930s, according to city documents, and has been largely unchanged since 1940. A replacement project has been in the works for decades.

The project, which would demolish and replace the incline, is scheduled to start in February, with the estimated incline closure starting the following month, according to a recent report from the Department of Public Works. Construction is expected to be completed by April of 2016.

On Tuesday, City Council will consider awarding a $2.7 million contract to CALTROP, for construction management and communication services related to the California Incline Bridge. CALTROP will manage the materials and geotechnical testing, public outreach, and traffic control support, though it will not perform the actual construction.

Council will consider that construction contract early next year.

While CALTROP would be in charge of carrying out the traffic detours, city traffic engineers have already built a traffic plan for the company to follow.

The main detours will utilize Moomat Ahiko Way as well as Lincoln Boulevard exits.

“We’re trying to do everything we can as far as signage and real-time information to get people not to go through the canyon roads,” said acting Principal Traffic Engineer Andrew Maximous. “Get them not to go down Seventh Street, not go up 26th, not go down that Ocean Drive squiggly thing at the end there. There will be real-time signage all along PCH. The intent is to show: Hey, it’ll take you 20 minutes to get to the tunnel if you stay on PCH but it’ll take you 40 or 45 if you go up through the canyon.”

Maximous acknowledges that the closure will likely slow down some other intersections in the city.

“In the past when the incline was closed ‚Äî or even when the Moomat Ahiko ramp was closed, recently, for repaving ‚Äî we did see an impact at the Lincoln off-ramp coming out of the tunnel,” he said.

The traffic department has plenty of cameras and the ability to make changes on the fly, he said.

“We know it’s coming,” Maximous said. “We’re throwing everything at it. We’ll be making as many tweaks to provide the least amount of inconvenience as possible.”

Aside from the fact that it will result in a brand new California Incline, there is one very small silver lining to the closure.

“The traffic signal that’s down there in front of the Jonathan Club where the incline hits PCH: Let’s say there’s like four phases right now that have to allow different movements – one of those phases is going to be removed during construction,” Maximous said. “Granted, now people that went up the incline are now continuing south ‚Äî they will detour to somewhere else, it might kind of be a wash ‚Äî but, in theory, the intersection itself will allow more cars to go north and south than it does currently.”

The incline qualifies for replacement under a Federal Highway Administration program and therefore, 88.5 percent of the cost of the project will be covered by federal funds. The project is expected to cost about $20 million.

The new incline will be about 750 feet long Рabout a hundred feet shorter than the current one — and consist of a reinforced concrete slab structure with sections ranging from 29 to 56 feet, according to the report from Public Works.

The incline would be widened by more than five and half feet.

“The roadway on the new incline structure would allow for designated bicycle lanes and improvements to the pedestrian sidewalk,” the report says. “The new bicycle lanes and sidewalk would be physically separated from the vehicular traffic lanes by a concrete barrier.”

The incline was first constructed in the 1890s as a pedestrian bridge called the Sunset Trail, according to “Hometown Santa Monica: The Bay Cities Book.”

The iconic thoroughfare became a route for cars decades later and has remained the same for more than half a century.

It intersects Palisades Park at California Avenue and then banks right, running parallel to the park until it reaches the PCH in the area of the Jonathan Club.

dave@smdp.com

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