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Freeway Construction Project to Affect Commute of Faculty, Staff, Students from Orange County

Published: November 3, 2009

A freeway construction project known as the West County Connectors (WCC) project is scheduled to begin in early 2010 and will have a significant impact on the daily commutes of faculty, staff and students at CSULB.

Under the purview of the Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA) in partnership with the California Department of Transportation, the project was initiated to link carpool lanes (also known as high occupancy vehicle, HOV lanes) on the San Diego Freeway (I-405) with those on the Garden Grove Freeway (SR-22) and San Gabriel Freeway (I-605).

The project traverses Garden Grove, Westminster, Seal Beach, Los Alamitos and Rossmoor, according to the OCTA. However, the biggest impact and concern for the CSULB community has to do with the closure of the 7th Street Bridge. This closure is expected to last approximately 12 months and will include the demolition of the bridge and construction of a new, longer bridge. Because of the existing bridge’s layout, limited dimensions and the need to construct the carpool lanes on the I-405 freeway underneath, the bridge must be replaced in its entirety and cannot be reconstructed one half at a time.

“There is no question that closing down 7th Street for incoming and outgoing traffic to and from the Orange County area will have a big effect on the faculty, staff and students coming to Cal State Long Beach from Orange County,” said CSULB Parking Manager Mark Rudometkin. “It is because of this impact that we are trying to get the word out to the campus community early and often in hopes of alerting those affected and minimizing the number of people surprised by the eventual closure.”

Over the last 24 months, the OCTA has met with municipalities, companies, businesses and others with large numbers of employees (including CSULB) and community organizations in an effort to get the word out about the project and discuss alternative routes for those affected by the upcoming construction.

For those commuting to CSULB, alternative routes include exiting Seal Beach Boulevard from the northbound I-405, heading south to Westminster Boulevard and proceeding to Studebaker Road to reconnect with 7th Street; or staying on the northbound I-405 freeway and exiting at Palo Verde Avenue or Bellflower Boulevard.

“We have been trying to work with local city councils, employers and community groups to come up with the best and most convenient alternative routes for those affected by the WCC project,” explained Christina Byrne, OCTA’s WCC community outreach manager.

In addition to the construction of two direct carpool lane connectors, the WCC project will add a second carpool lane in each direction of the I-405 between the 22 and 605 freeways. The project also includes the reconstruction of the Valley View Street and Seal Beach Boulevard bridges and on- and off-ramps as well as the construction of sound walls and retaining walls at various locations.

OCTA officials believe the project will help make the freeways safer by eliminating carpool users’ need to weave across general purpose lanes to switch to and from the carpool lanes.

“When this project is completed, the commute for those using these sections of the freeway will be both easier and safer for everyone, not just for those using the carpool lanes,” said Niall Barrett, OCTA WCC project manager. “As with any freeway construction project, there will be some inconvenience to commuters for an extended period of time, but in the end, the final result will be a seamless carpool connection from the SR-22 to the I-405 and from the I-405 to the I-605.”

The cost of the project is $400 million, with $200 million coming from the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality program and the other $200 million coming from the Corridor Mobility Improvement Account. Construction on the entire project is expected to begin in early 2010 and completed in late 2013.

“We’ve been fortunate that the funding for this project has been in place for some time. So far, the WCC project has not been affected by the state’s current fiscal situation,” Barrett noted. “The final design of the project is in place, and construction will commence in early 2010.”

–Rick Gloady