It was announced last week that construction on a new Hollywood (101) Freeway onramp is ahead of schedule, requiring the closure of the Barham offramp later this week instead of next spring, as originally planned.
“We are ahead of schedule on the new southbound 101 onramp and targeting a completion by mid-December,” said Cindy Gardner, NBCUniversal spokeswoman. “The closure of the southbound Barham offramp is necessary to ensure the safety of the workers and motorists and prepare for the final stages of this important new improvement in the area. Once completed, this new onramp will take 70 percent of Universal Studios traffic off local streets and directly on the freeway.”
The news further upset a community association that has been fighting to keep the ramp open through a lawsuit that is still in the appeal process.
“The advancement of the closure is just unconscionable,” said John Strozdas, president of the Keep the Barham Ramp Association. “Our point of view is that the new ramp is not needed yet and they shouldn’t close the Barham ramp while the lawsuit is still pending.”
The changes to the ramps are part of the overall NBCUniversal Evolution Plan to expand the theme park – which has been vetted and approved by the Los Angeles City Council and Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.
The Barham ramp will now be permanently closed Oct. 17. A judge dismissed Keep the Barham Ramp’s lawsuit in July because it was ruled to be past the statute of limitations of the environmental impact report (EIR) for the NBCUniversal Evolution Plan. It claims that the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) and NBCUniversal didn’t properly inform the public, and that the closure will cause adverse traffic effects for the surrounding neighborhoods and nearby ramps, such as one for Highland Avenue 1.5 miles south. The group filed an appeal that could take months to be considered.
Strozdas said the safety concern that caused the ramp closure is a “false issue” because NBCUniversal can close the ramp anytime they want.
“What’s the point of closing it permanently? There’s no advantage to permanent closure. They are already closing the ramp at night for construction. Why should it be closed during the day when they’re not working?”
He said he believes it’s a “clear attempt” by NBCUniversal to get the controversy behind them.
The new ramp is followed directly by the Barham offramp, which Caltrans said can cause “weaving” – a term related to cars speeding up to get away from the onramp versus vehicles slowing down to exit the offramp. Caltrans requires at least a 1,500 feet distance to prevent weaving. The distance between the ramps is approximately 500 feet. NBCUniversal said the new onramp was the number one requested improvement by the community for the Evolution Plan.
Strozdas said resentment is growing because the group believes there is no justification for closing a 55-year old ramp without proper public notification. The lawsuit argued that more research and alternatives are needed regarding the Barham offramp closure. Strozdas said the closure was hidden in an addendum to the project’s environmental impact report (EIR), and confusingly referred to in that document as the Bennett offramp, which is not how signage reads.
Citing 2010 Caltrans review meeting documents, Strozdas believes NBCUniversal knew the Barham ramp closure would be a possibility years before construction started, but omitted it from the EIR to avoid a foreseen controversial public review process. NBCUniversal contends that they did not know until after the EIR was made public, and in fact spent “several million dollars” to try to keep it open. When Caltrans decided that the Barham ramp would be closed, the information was released publically, according to NBCUniversal.
“Keeping the ramp open would be good for NBCUniversal,” Gardner said. “It would be beneficial to get as many access points to and from the freeway as possible.
Strozdas said he still has hope that an alternative solution will be found and that the group isn’t going to go away. He said the closure is “resisted greatly by the neighborhood,” and that people are getting an “early taste of life” without the Barham ramp and they do not like it.
“We’re still in the right,” he said. “We won’t be silenced.”
Keep the Barham Ramp Association is reviewing its legal strategy. The association held a meeting Wednesday night after press time to discuss possible solutions. Strozdas said he was expecting representatives from Los Angeles County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl’s office, state Senator Ben Allen’s office, and assemblymen Adrin Nazarian and Mike Gatto’s offices.
“We’re trying to keep it open and look at options,” Strozdas said. “They’re misguided in thinking that they can get this behind them. We will be there.”
Two right freeway lanes, closest to the shoulder, will be temporarily closed beginning north of the Lankershim Boulevard/Regal Place onramp through the new Universal Studios Boulevard onramp. The closure will start at 11 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 23 and will reopen at 5 a.m. on Monday, Oct. 26.
To manage the Barham closure, portable electronic message signs were placed along the freeway on Oct. 9 to provide notification of the final closure, and directions to use the Lankershim/Regal offramp. Los Angeles Department of Transportation (DOT) officers will help with traffic control during evening peak hours on weeknights until the new ramp opens. Several overhead freeway signs in the area will be modified, starting Oct. 17, to notify motorists to use the Lankershim/Regal offramp to access Barham Boulevard. The existing southbound Barham onramp will remain open. The southbound onramp at Universal Studios Boulevard should be complete and operational by the end of December 2015.
Business owners in the area are considering the ramifications of the closure.
Mona Chahayed owns the Mobil Mart located directly south of the offramp, and she said in an earlier report that she is concerned the closure will dramatically affect her business.
“Most of my customers come here from this exit,” she said. “Without this entry, half of my customers are gone.”
For information about construction updates, call (818)363-3088.
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