One of the busiest commuter routes in the world is about to undergo a three and a half year, $277 million renovation project that will eventually improve the flow of traffic but not before bringing it to a crawl.
The West County Connector Project is underway, and its first major test of commuter patience will begin tonight with four-lane closures on the San Diego (405) Freeway, two-lane closures on the Garden Grove (22) Freeway, and the closure of multiple freeway connectors as well as on- and off-ramps.
In the next three years, entire overpasses will be torn down and rebuilt, freeway lanes will be intermittently closed, and the Long Beach/Seventh Street exit from the 405 will close for up to a year.
The impact will have an enormous effect on commuters in the Long Beach, Seal Beach, Rossmoor, Los Alamitos and Garden Grove areas, along with anyone traveling the gateway between Los Angeles and Orange counties. It will also send drivers on detours along sidestreets in those cities.
For all the hassle of major freeway construction, commuters will be rewarded in 2014 with seamless carpool-lane transitions between the 22 and 405 and the 405 and the San Gabriel (605) freeways, along with additional carpool lanes on the 405. Currently carpoolers have to exit the carpool lanes and cross as many as six lanes of traffic to switch freeways. It can be dangerous, and it creates a traffic bottleneck at the nexus of the freeways, said Christin Byrne, community relations officer for the Orange County Transportation Authority.
Over the past two years, OCTA has held about 100 meetings with stakeholders and hosted a series of town hall meetings. Despite the large-scale outreach effort, many have no idea what is coming. Notably, the Seventh Street exit sees about 30,000 cars a day, and it’s closure eliminates the direct access to the veterans hospital, California State University, Long Beach, and Seal Beach’s College Park West neighborhood from the 7th Street off ramp.
Byrne said that the Veterans Administration hospital is a “big stakeholder.... They do have a fair amount of traffic from Orange County because it is the closest option.”
The Seventh Street exit is expected to be closed by the end of next month and will stay that way for the year. For most of the year, the Old Ranch Parkway (22) onramp in Seal Beach will be closed because of the Seventh Street closure. The Valley View Street overpass in Garden Grove will be widened at the same time, forcing closures and lane reductions.
When those two projects are done, the Seal Beach Boulevard overpass will be torn down and widened, a 20-month project.
Rebuilding the Seal Beach Boulevard overpass will reduce traffic to a single lane in each direction during construction, creating concerns about emergency access for many in Leisure World, which sees as many as 30 paramedic calls a day.
“We have been working with emergency services for two years,” Byrne said. “We’ll have a median striped for emergency vehicles only.”
When the Seal Beach Boulevard overpass is rebuilt, it will go from having two lanes in each direction to having four lanes northbound and three lanes southbound.
“I am concerned about the several years of detour traffic congesting the streets,” said Seal Beach resident Mike Lozano, who lives in the College Park East neighborhood off of Lampson Avenue--a route for detour traffic. “I wish they could have steered traffic to Westminster Boulevard by the base, where nobody lives.”
Rossmoor resident Clay Gordon said he is resigned to the added commute time to his job at the Long Beach harbor.
“I’m just going to have to get an early start,” he said. “I think it’s a necessary evil. I just wish it wouldn’t take so long.”
Still others at a recent community meeting on the project in Rossmoor were eager to see it begin.
“It’s absolutely worth it,” said Los Alamitos resident Curtis Brown. “No pain–no gain.’
Rossmoor resident and realtor Lorraine Porter said she worries that the new 405-605 connector will increase freeway noise for the Rossmoor community. She also wonders if the project will improve the flow of freeway traffic enough to justify the cost and inconvenience.
“I understand that you have to widen streets and bridges, but it is going to create a super inconvenience,” she said.
Deborah Schoch lives in Long Beach and uses Seventh Street for her commute to and from her job in Alhambra.
“The sheer size of the project is an unpleasant surprise to me and some of my neighbors,” she wrote in an email. “We've been puzzling why we did not hear about this sooner. I've yet to read a clear description of the project or see a user-friendly map. “
Schoch said she worries that the southeast Long Beach residents were overlooked when it came to full-scale outreach by OCTA and that alerts and notices about ongoing closures will either be insufficient or too confusing to be helpful to commuters.
OCTA offers alerts and closure information through its website.
This week’s nighttime closures:
- From Sunday through Thursday, four lanes on each side of the San Diego (405) between Westminster Boulevard and Seal Beach Boulevard will be closed from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m.
- At least one lane will be open on each side of the freeway, but expect the lane reductions to slow down the flow of traffic significantly.
- Two lanes on the Garden Grove (22) Freeway from Goldenwest Street to the 405 will also be closed, Sunday through Thursday, from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m.
- The southbound westbound 22 to the northbound 405 connector will be entirely closed from midnight to 5 a.m. from Sunday through Thursday, and on Friday, it will be closed from midnight until noon.
- The southbound 405 to the eastbound 22 connector will also be closed Sunday through Thursday from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m.
- The 405 Seal Beach Boulevard on- and off-ramps will be closed, Sunday through Thursday, from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m.
- From Sunday through Friday, the northbound 405 will have three lane closures from Seal Beach Boulevard to the 605, from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m.
- The northbound 405 and northbound 605 connector will be closed from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m., Sunday through Friday.