2016-10-28 / Community

It’s finished! After nearly 3 years, 101-23 interchange opens

Nov. 1 ceremony to dedicate the highway improvement project
By Becca Whitnall

HAVE A LOOK—A glass soundwall behind the U-Haul dealership on Willow Lane offers a view of the 101 Freeway. HAVE A LOOK—A glass soundwall behind the U-Haul dealership on Willow Lane offers a view of the 101 Freeway. It took nearly a year longer than anticipated, but Ventura County’s largest freeway undertaking in recent history is finally coming to an end after 32 months of construction.

Caltrans, along with the City of Thousand Oaks and Ventura County Transportation Commission, will host a dedication ceremony Nov. 1 to mark the completion of the Route 101-23 Interchange Improvement Project, a nearly $40-million effort to ease congestion at one of the region’s most notorious bottlenecks.

Earlier this month, crews removed barriers on the 101 Freeway approaching the 23 interchange, freeing up an additional lane in both directions, the last major piece of a costly and timeconsuming puzzle.

“All lanes are open and it seems to be flowing,” said project manager Mike Tohidian, a senior engineer with the City of T.O. “We feel it’s a big improvement and hope the drivers feel like it is too.”

The endeavor involved adding a travel lane in each direction for drivers connecting to the 101 from the 23 Freeway, re-striping off-ramps and interchange lanes from one lane to two, and constructing sound-walls on both sides of the 101.

Darren Kettle, director of VCTC, said reduced traffic congestion is pleasing to drivers and, more important, safer.

“The 101 is our backbone, our main street through Ventura County, and it’s nice to see the traffic flowing better and safer — that’s a huge deal, of course,” he said.

Long envisioned by the transportation agency, the project was made possible only after the City of Thousand Oaks agreed in 2011 to loan the state as much as $15 million from its general fund reserves to get the job started.

“That’s sort of the last in a series of projects that was started back in 2004 and included the work (widening) on the 23,” Kettle said. “Had we not got the loan from the city, that project would have been delayed another three years.”

Among the final items crossed off the project’s checklist: completion of a soundwall on the southbound side of the 101 at Hampshire Road that needed to be redesigned mid-construction and the re-striping of sections of the northbound 101 to help ease confusion regarding exit-only lanes.

The latter was done in response to complaints from drivers about the stretch of the 101 between Moorpark and Lynn roads where traffic from the 23 southbound connects, Tohidian said.

“The ‘elephant feet striping’ was kind of short, so now drivers get more advance notice to merge,” he said, referring to the extension of the wide broken lines indicating exit-only lanes.

Additional signs were installed to alert drivers entering the 101 that they need to get over one lane to avoid having to exit at Lynn.

Even after next week’s dedication, Caltrans will continue working to install an irrigation system and repave the Hampshire Road on- and off-ramps, department spokesperson Yessica Jovel said.

Total cost

At last check, the total estimated cost of the interchange expansion, which was to be paid with a mix of federal and state funds, was $37.5 million, Tohidian said.

The final cost won’t be known until project contractors turn in their last claims and Caltrans has evaluated and settled them, Jovel said. The $37.5-million cost is slightly under the original estimated $40-million mark.

While the project was completed under budget, it was not completed on time. The original project schedule of two years stretched to nearly three in large part due to the soundwall redesign.

Work was delayed late last year when engineers discovered the wall intended for the south side of the 101 near Hampshire Road could not be built as originally designed.

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

Another matter is the issue of repayment to the City of Thousand Oaks, which is still waiting for about $13 million, the amount actually used of the almost $16 million the city made available for loan.

The money will come from the state, whose transportation commission has approved the repayment in June. The payment will come after all final claims have been settled.

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