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405 widening in Sepulveda Pass faces another obstacle

April 28, 2009 |  7:26 pm

405traffic On a typical day hundreds of thousands of commuters cram through the Sepulveda Pass, creating an unending line of tail lights that snake across the Santa Monica Mountains from the Westside to the San Fernando Valley during the afternoon commute.

For years, transportation officials have been pushing to ease the gridlock with a $1-billion widening project for the northbound 405 Freeway, which is considered one of the state’s most crowded roadways.

The project is supposed to move forward later this year. But the state’s grim financial situation may cause more delays.

The state was planning to sell $662 million in bonds to help pay for its share of the project, but has not yet been able to. It's unclear when officials will be able to sell the bonds.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority is stepping in, allocating local and federal funds it had earmarked for the widening to get work started on the first phase.

Transportation officials have secured $372 million, which includes $189.9 million from the federal stimulus package and $127.1 million in other federal funds.

The money will allow the project to run for 15 months, while officials seek further funding, said MTA spokesman Dave Sotero.

The MTA Board of Directors voted to move forward with Phase One, which will include designing and relocating utilities that might impede the widening of the freeway, as well limited construction activity, Sotero said.

The plan calls for adding a carpool lane on a 10-mile stretch of the 405 northbound between the 10 and 101 freeways. The hope is that the lanes will encourage more people to share rides, ultimately easing congestion in the area.

"There’s not a time of the day that the 405 doesn’t stop and go," said Rick Thorpe of the MTA. "Not everyone will be carpooling, but it’s a huge impact.... It will bring a tremendous improvement there."

Sotero said MTA officials have been discussing scenarios in case funding from the state is delayed for long periods. One idea is for the MTA to temporarily purchase the bonds and carry the debt.

--Ruben Vives

Photo: L.A. Times