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Thursday, Nov 30, 2023

Business Leaders Support Widening Of 101 Freeway

Business Leaders Support Widening Of 101 Freeway By JACQUELINE FOX Staff Reporter Despite widespread opposition from residents to the idea, there is much support in the Valley’s business community for widening the 101 freeway as a way to ease traffic congestion, recent survey results show. In fact, many business leaders say that unless a widening project or alternatives aimed directly at mitigating the growing traffic congestion along the 101 corridor and surface streets, are implemented soon, the local economy will suffer. Residents and some business owners, fearing eviction to make way for two or three more lanes along the 101 corridor, collectively vowed earlier this year to wage a bitter fight against the idea, prompting a few local legislators who once supported the plan, to do an about face, stopping the plan dead in its tracks. Few on either side have historically thrown much weight behind expansion of the commuter rail system running east and west across the Valley. Instead, so far, the only plan that has managed to make it from paper to pavement, is the East-West Valley Rapid Busway, or Rapidway, now under construction and scheduled for completion by fall of 2005. But buses aren’t enough, despite opinions to the contrary (see accompanying story), some say. Regional transportation officials are revisiting a widening plan for the 101 freeway or possibly an extension of light rail as they grapple with the potential of losing billions of dollars in funding if mandates for improving air quality standards aren’t met by certain deadlines. Planners at the Southern California Association of Governments are re-evaluating ways to ease traffic flow along the 101, as well as considering constructing elevated truck lanes on the heavily congested Long Beach (710) Freeway. And, according to the results of a survey on traffic and transit-related issues, there is hefty support for both a widening plan and expanding light rail from the Valley’s business community, compared to meager interest in improving the existing bus system. Of the 53 respondents who participated in the San Fernando Valley Leadership Survey, sponsored jointly by the Business Journal and Cooper Communications, 45 percent said they favored widening the 101 even if it meant having to demolish hundreds of properties along the way, compared to the 34 percent who were against the idea and 17 percent who said they weren’t sure. When asked if they favored extending the region’s light-rail system, 83 percent said yes, compared to 8 percent who did not support the idea, and 9 percent who said they weren’t sure. Respondents also said they would be willing to pay for improvements: 58 percent supported tax increases for transit programs, compared to 30 percent opposed. Only 13 percent said they would personally use an improved bus system, compared to 60 percent who said they would prefer to use light rail if it got them to and from their destination in a timely fashion. The point: traffic is of chief concern to the Valley’s business community, and despite the potential for collateral damage, there seems to be a fix-it-at-any-cost mentality taking hold. “Clearly something has to be done,” said Bob Pearlman, a partner at BDO Seidman LLP. “The way it is now is absolutely unworkable and it’s going to get worse. “The idea of widening the 101 was actually already approved before and that plan should be implemented. I think that adding another one or two lanes on each side, with possibly some high-speed carpool lanes, would be less intrusive and less time consuming than double decking the freeway. That would just be years of agony and pain.” As far as light rail goes, Pearlman said the Valley should have been included in the original plans to build what is now the Red Line subway system, which now terminates at the North Hollywood MTA Subway station and where the Rapidway would begin its east-west journey. “I think fewer people would use the subway than the freeway, but I think it’s ludicrous and a crime of omission that when that whole system was originally built in Los Angeles it didn’t come out to the Valley proper,” Pearlman said. Staying close to home Martin Leffler, president of Leffler, Miller Ward & Company in Encino, said he would never use light rail because he works and lives near his office. He said he rarely makes outside appointments, avoids the 101 at any cost and, when it comes to surface streets, finds they can be just as big of a nightmare as the 101 at rush hour on any given day of the week. Overall, 55 percent of the respondents said they use the 101, compared to 11 percent who said they regularly use surface streets. But 41 percent said they sometimes use both the 101 and surface streets, depending on traffic and where they are headed. Nonetheless, 58 percent of the respondents said they regularly use surface streets to avoid the 101, compared to 15 percent who said they did not. “I’m very frustrated personally,” said Leffler. “Any time I have to leave the office in the middle of the day to go out to either the west Valley, or to the east side in Burbank, for example, it’s horrendous. That’s why I avoid going out of the office and if I can, I hold all of my meetings here. I’ve been in the Valley since 1987. I moved here from the other side of the hill because the commute was so bad. Now, it’s just as bad over here.” “Clearly the Valley business community is concerned about traffic and, despite the potential for losing homes and businesses, sees that changes must be made,” said Marty Cooper, president of Cooper Communications. “I think the Valley business community is to be complimented for its willingness to move beyond the NIMBYISM problem and saying that, even if the impact to homes and businesses is of concern, it’s also imperative that we do something.” Regarding the ramifications of traffic congestion on the local economy, 83 percent of the respondents said the Valley’s overall economy would suffer without long-term solutions, compared to 15 percent who it makes no difference to and 11 percent who said they weren’t sure. Leffler needed no prompting there. “Look, I personally know of a business right down the street from me that had 26 employees on Ventura Boulevard, who decided to move to Newport to get away from the traffic,” said Leffler. “And, guess what? The owner took all but five of those employees with him.” The survey was distributed to 206 business leaders in the Valley; the response rate was 26 percent, the highest return since the quarterly surveys were launched in 2002. “The Valley’s business community is clearly willing to take a leading role in the betterment of our region,” said Cooper. “And their willingness to participate in opinion surveys like this are demonstrative of their care, concern and commitment for this region’s future.”

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