2016-04-15 / Front Page

Delays continue, for Caltrans, 101/23 project

Interchange to be done by August
By Becca Whitnall


SLOW GO—April marked the 26th month of construction on the 101/23 freeway interchange expansion in Thousand Oaks. Progress was delayed earlier this year due to an improperly designed soundwall. 
RICHARD GILLARD/Acorn Newspapers SLOW GO—April marked the 26th month of construction on the 101/23 freeway interchange expansion in Thousand Oaks. Progress was delayed earlier this year due to an improperly designed soundwall. RICHARD GILLARD/Acorn Newspapers Construction on the 101/23 freeway interchange in Thousand Oaks, originally slated to finish this spring, is now expected to end in August.

The Caltrans-led expansion of the county’s busiest interchange is in its 26th month. Work was delayed late last year when engineers discovered a soundwall intended for the south side of the 101 near Hampshire Road could not be built as originally designed.

“The (new plans) had to make their way up the chain at Caltrans,” city engineer Mike Tohidian said this week.

Adding to the delay, Tohidian said, were funding issues at Caltrans; however, a spokesperson for the state transportation department had no further details by press time.

“There were design and funding issues with the soundwall in question,” Yessica Jovil, public affairs officer, wrote via an email to the Acorn. “I do not have any further information to provide on this.”

The soundwall redesign increased the anticipated cost of the expansion from $33.6 million to $37.5 million in December, forcing the cash-strapped state agency to come up with an additional $4 million.

The taxpayers of Thousand Oaks are still waiting to be paid back for the project by Caltrans and the Ventura County Transportation Commission. So far, the city has somewhere between $11 million and $12 million invested, or roughly 37 percent of the total expense, Tohidian said.

The project manager says the city continues to pay its share of the invoices as they come in.

A loan of up to $15.76 million was approved in 2013 to get the long-awaited expansion off the ground, but Tohidian said the final amount expended should be less than that.

“We are working with VCTC and Caltrans now on the request for the reimbursement and are hoping to have that approved by June,” he said. “We initially attempted to get reimbursed last year in the middle of construction, but there was uncertainty about how much was needed.”

He added that he does not expect costs to rise any further.

With the revised completion date four months away, only two large portions of the expansion remain, Jovel said .

“Over the next few months, crews will be working in the median of US 101 to pave the new lanes,” she said. “Crews will also be constructing the final soundwall.”

In addition to paving new lanes, median work will include irrigation, plating and electrical improvements, Jovel said. At the request of the city, Caltrans has promised to replant several oak trees that were removed during the expansion.

Design criticized

In response to public outcry, Jovel said the department is taking a second look at the 101 northbound on-ramp at Moorpark Road.

“Although work has been completed in accordance with the project plans, Caltrans is looking into motorists’ concerns and is actively working to address these issues,” Jovel said.

Residents have complained to the city and have written letters to the Acorn saying the redesign puts drivers at risk.

Maureen Celusta of Newbury Park called for holding Caltrans responsible for what she called a “costly blunder” and a “disaster.”

“It is more confusing than ever, has added to the congestion of the merging of two freeways and then forced the northbound on-ramp traffic at Moorpark Road onto the 101 west to immediately merge with traffic on the freeway, rather than the prior design that gave the on-ramp the entire stretch to Lynn Road to merge,” she said.

Acknowledging the merge space is shorter than before, Tohidian said the design falls within California highway standards.

The shortened merge lane was a product of doing away with an auxiliary lane in order to widen the freeway itself, he said.

Though some drivers may not like it, a measure that could help ease merging is a planned on-ramp meter that would be used during heavy traffic times, Tohidian said.

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