It’s been exactly 500 days since traffic was allowed on the California Incline. But hey, who’s counting?
The iconic piece of Santa Monica infrastructure, which connects Pacific Coast Highway to Ocean Avenue on the bluffs above it, reopens today after an approximately 18 month closure for major reconstruction.
The widened incline is now up to seismic standards, according to City officials, and will open to vehicle traffic at 5 p.m. The new bridge also features designated paths for cyclists and pedestrians, who will be able to access it starting at 10 a.m.
“From a local perspective, reopening the incline will provide an additional access point along Ocean Avenue, helping to alleviate congestion along Ocean between Broadway and Olympic Drive,” City traffic engineer Andrew Maximous said. “We expect traffic patterns to return to what was observed prior to the closure.”
The incline opens just ahead of Labor Day weekend and comes as Santa Monica continues its attempts to improve mobility, which city leaders and other local officials have deemed a top priority.
It’s been less than three months since the 6.6-mile extension of the Expo Line from Culver City to Santa Monica, a Metro light-rail project that now facilitates rides between the Westside and Downtown Los Angeles. The extension marked the return of train-based transit to the coastal city after a decades-long absence.
Around the same time, City leaders launched the “GoSaMo” marketing campaign to educate people who live and work in Santa Monica about the variety of new transportation options. The $500,000 initiative encourages commuters to consider taking the train, riding on Big Blue Bus, using the Breeze bikeshare system and walking.
The recently opened Colorado Esplanade between 4th Street and Ocean Avenue is a microcosm of Santa Monica’s circulation puzzle, ushering one-way car traffic towards the pier while designating space for cyclists as well as pedestrians who have taken the Expo Line to its new western terminus.
“When you have that diversity of options,” City mobility manager Francie Stefan said recently, “the whole system works better.”
What remains to be seen is exactly how the opening of the incline will affect traffic on Pacific Coast Highway and in Downtown Santa Monica. Motorists have been taking Ocean Avenue via Moomat Ahiko Way and Lincoln Boulevard as alternate routes during construction of the incline, which in 2013 was accommodating roughly 15,000 vehicles per day.
City officials will monitor the area throughout the weekend and tweak traffic signals as needed in real time, Maximous said.
“As with the closure, we expect an adjustment period for the first week or so,” he said. “We anticipate that overall congestion will be reduced at intersections along Ocean Avenue between Broadway and Olympic Drive as well as in Santa Monica Canyon.”
A few weeks after the incline closed in April 2015, city officials reported that traffic was mostly normal in the areas around the structure. Signal adjustments and detour signage were credited with helping to ease the burden of the closure.
The incline has been redone with major seismic upgrades and other improvements. The structure qualified for replacement through a federal program, which is covering 88.5 percent of the roughly $20-million project. The City of Santa Monica is footing the rest of the bill.
“The California Incline is precisely the type of project to benefit from these critical federal funds,” U.S. Rep. Ted Lieu said in a statement. “I want to congratulate the City of Santa Monica for its leadership on completing this important project.”
The incline was initially expected to open for traffic around Memorial Day weekend, but the construction of a pedestrian overcrossing pushed back the timeline. The $2.3-million pedestrian bridge, which was funded entirely by the City, is expected to open by the end of September.
“By extending the entire period by a couple months,” City engineer Lee Swain said recently, “we could get two projects done and hopefully open it up and not have to close it again.”
The incline was first built in the 1890s as a pedestrian bridge called the Sunset Trail, according to Daily Press archives. The thoroughfare became a route for cars decades later and has remained so for more than half a century.