Long Beach poised to sue over 405 Freeway expansion in Orange County

Long Beach city officials say widening I-405 in Orange County will create a traffic bottleneck just outside Long Beach because the additional lanes will end near the Los Angeles County line.
Long Beach city officials say widening I-405 in Orange County will create a traffic bottleneck just outside Long Beach because the additional lanes will end near the Los Angeles County line.
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Long Beach city officials say they are ready to sue over plans to widen the 405 Freeway in Orange County, which they say don't provide enough funding to ease traffic congestion caused by the sudden end to the freeway expansion at the Long Beach border.

The Orange County Transportation Agency is moving forward with a $1.7 billion plan to add one toll lane and one free lane in each direction between Costa Mesa and Long Beach.

Because the additional lanes will end at the Los Angeles County border and peel off onto I-605 North, some say the expansion will create a traffic bottleneck outside of Long Beach.

“We believe that they have not fully accounted for the way traffic will flow out of the 405 when it hits a bottleneck,” said Long Beach Deputy City Manager Arturo Sanchez.

About 370,000 cars travel on the between Costa Mesa and Long Beach on I-405 every day, according to the Orange County Transportation Authority. The freeway is routinely listed as among the busiest and most congested in the nation.

The widening project is expected to increase traffic on the freeway by 23 percent in both directions. Construction is expected to start in 2018.

The agency is responsible for finding ways to mitigate the traffic pressure caused by the expansion project. In an environmental impact report, it sets aside funding for each of a handful of intersections it projects will be affected.

But Sanchez said the study doesn’t go far enough.  

He said the state’s transportation department has already graded its freeway, the Pacific Coast Highway, with an F for its congestion. The expansion of the 405 would make traffic on and around the PCH worse, Sanchez said.

“You are simply providing a nominal amount of mitigation to get it back up to an F,” he said.

Sanchez couldn’t provide a specific dollar amount for how much the city would receive for traffic mitigation projects and the Orange County plan lists a number of options so it's hard to come up with an exact number.

Long Beach is conducting its own traffic study in preparation of a lawsuit

It has 30 days after the OCTA gives officials notice that it will be moving forward with the project to file suit. Sanchez believes that will happen soon, since Monday is the last day for the public to comment on the project’s environmental impact report.

Orange County Transportation Authority Spokesperson Joel Zlotik said the state took the lead on the report. Caltrans officials could not be reached for comment Monday afternoon.

But Zlotnik said his agency's position is that the plans to address traffic in Long Beach are adequate.

“Throughout this project, we have worked very closely with the city of Long Beach and others in the area," he said.

Sanchez said Long Beach would like for Orange County to slow down the expansion project down to give Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority time to come up with a similar expansion of the 405 on the L.A. side.

The MTA has is reviewing a feasibility study that could add one or two lanes to a five-mile stretch of the 405 in Long Beach, between the I-605 interchange north to Cherry Avenue. But that project is in the early stages, MTA officials said.

Zlotnik said the 405 Freeway expansion is urgently needed to ease congestion.

“We are moving forward as quickly as we can,” Zlotnik said. “This project is part of Measure M, which voters approved.”