BY SONALI KOHLI | April 15, 2014 | Updated April 29, 2014 2:25 p.m.
DIAMOND BAR – It’s a particularly unpleasant stretch where two major freeways come together, crushing 17 lanes into 14 and forcing vehicles to weave past each other to get on the correct freeway before they separate again. Each time there’s an accident, about one every other day, traffic pushes into Diamond Bar streets, backing up the city.
During the past three years, Caltrans has ranked the northbound entrance to the confluence of state routes 57 and 60 as one of the five most congested freeway segments during the evening rush hour across Los Angeles and Ventura counties. Some 30,000 semi-trailer trucks jostle for position among the 400,000 vehicles traveling the 2-mile stretch each day.
“The intersection over there is just a really bad situation,” said Gary Hernandez, tow manager at California Coach Body Towing. That’s one of two towing companies the district uses to service the 57/60 confluence. Hernandez said the most common cause of crashes he sees is drivers trying to change lanes.
City officials in Diamond Bar and Industry have been trying to find a way to improve the bottleneck for years. About a decade ago, Majestic Realty Co. – the same developer that proposed a football stadium in Industry – built Grand Crossing Park, an industrial center near the confluence.
A project that size requires traffic mitigation. An engineer realized traffic problems are far too large to fix with just widening lanes or an extra on-ramp or off-ramp in Diamond Bar, in the middle of the problem area, said Industry city engineer J.D. Ballas.
“We were going to end up putting a band-aid on a broken freeway,” Ballas said.
The two cities partnered with the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority to come up with a plan to significantly reduce congestion and danger in the area. It includes widening the freeway and adding entrances and exits to reduce the need to change lanes quickly.
The project costs $256 million and is split into four phases. The first three phases cost $50.6 million. They’re fully funded through grants and with money from Industry, and construction will likely happen around 2016, possibly earlier. But that leaves about $205.4 million to fund the last phase of the project.
So what are the options to get the money?
Wait until 2029
• The money: The 2009 Metro Long Range Plan allocates enough money to cover the last phase, but that money won’t be available until 2029.
• The problem: Pollution and costs will continue to increase if the biggest phase of the project is delayed 15 years.
• “How many additional traffic accidents will we have, and potentially deaths?” said Diamond Bar Mayor Carol Herrera.
Public funding and freight designation
• The money: Federal grants, like $600 million available for next fiscal year to fund economic and safety improvements on roadways, could help complete the project. It could be easier to get that funding if the confluence is recognized as an important thoroughfare for goods on their way to the rest of the country. City officials from Diamond Bar, Walnut and Industry traveled to Washington, D.C., last month to lobby for designating this portion of the 60 freeway as a primary freight network in MAP 22, the federal transportation bill currently in Congress.
• The problem: The project’s leaders have applied for this federal grant before and not received it. Also, members of Congress are fighting over where to get funding to improve the country’s freight network, and the bill is not expected to pass until fall at the earliest. Even if the area does receive the designation, there’s no guarantee it will help with funding because Congress recently did away with earmarks – allocating funding to specific projects in bills.
• “We’re all fighting for (funding),” said Walnut Councilman Bob Pacheco, who believes it will be difficult to get federal funding because of the number of projects vying for attention.
• The money: Private investors could pay for the last leg of the construction, which would eliminate the need for further public funding.
• The problem: You would have to pay to drive on the freeway. There would probably need to be a toll element so backers could get a return on their investment. Ballas said this is unlikely because the confluence is too short for a toll.
Ballas said he hopes the project can get completed with a combination of federal and local funds that the city will match. He’s just not sure if, or when, that will happen.
“Someone with a big ego would tell you, ‘Absolutely, it’s in the bag,’” Ballas said. “But I can’t say that.”
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