110 Freeway Off-Ramp Project Threatens Historic Church, MyFigueroa

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Caltrans planned 110 Freeway flyover off-ramp next to St. John’s Cathedral. Image via Caltrans MND document [PDF]

Tonight, Caltrans is hosting a meeting to gather input on a new freeway off-ramp that would funnel 110 Freeway traffic onto Figueroa Street just south of downtown Los Angeles. The meeting takes place from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Orthopedic Institute for Children, 403 West Adams Boulevard in South Los Angeles.

Caltrans’ proposal, officially titled the Interstate 110 High-Occupancy Toll Lanes Flyover Project, would spend $43 million extending the elevated express lanes structure, so drivers who currently exit at Adams Boulevard near Flower Street could also exit two blocks north at Figueroa Street, south of 23rd Street. The new off-ramp would be an elevated flyover extending over Adams, Flower, and the Metro Expo Line and landing on Figueroa Way, a small one-way street that merges onto Figueroa Street.

Aerial view of the flyover trajectory, with identified historic resources highlighted. Image via Caltrans MND document [PDF]
Aerial view of the flyover trajectory, with identified historic resources highlighted. Image via Caltrans MND document [PDF]

In January, Caltrans released its environmental study, a Mitigated Negative Declaration [PDF], essentially stating that the project would have no significant negative environmental impact on the surrounding neighborhoods.

Organized opposition to the project has primarily come from the L.A. Conservancy. The Conservancy opposes the 70-foot tall freeway ramp for impairing views of the adjacent 1924 St. John’s Cathedral, as well as contributing noise and further breaking up the neighborhood. 

From the L.A. Conservancy’s October 2015 comment letter on the environmental impacts of the project [PDF]:

The FOE document [Caltrans Finding of Adverse Effect document] states ‘the proposed project will be compatible with the existing visual character of the project corridor,’ and Alternative 2 ‘is as compatible as possible with existing historic properties.’ While we appreciate efforts to minimize the visual impact and harm of this flyover connector structure through design modifications, no amount of intervention or ‘dressing up’ the flyover can effectively ‘lighten’ or make this structure compatible with the existing community and historic context. Therefore we strongly disagree with the FOE document stating that the proposed structure is ‘compact, light, and minimal.’ Rather this is a structure that will have profound visual impacts and serve as a physical barrier, disrupting important viewsheds and breaking up parts of this neighborhood.

The off-ramp ends on Figueroa Street between Adams and 23rd. This is right in the middle of L.A.’s most ambitious complete streets makeover, the $20 million MyFigueroa project. That project will build a more walkable, bikeable, transit-friendly Figueroa corridor between downtown L.A. and Exposition Park. Though Caltrans’ MND asserts that the new flyover is compatible with MyFigueroa, any pedestrian or cyclist knows that a freeway off-ramp will be detrimental to making Figueroa a great place to walk and bike.

Lastly, the project contradicts much of Metro’s language about how its ExpressLanes were intended to work. ExpressLanes, in theory, use existing excess freeway HOV lane capacity, selling it in the form of toll lanes. There are many worthwhile projects that have come from Metro’s ExpressLanes program, and it has been important in demonstrating how congestion pricing can work. But now increased toll-paying car traffic is the impetus behind this new flyover ramp and, previously, the removal of the sidewalk on a section of Adams to increase the capacity for cars. So, Metro’s toll lanes are not all about existing capacity, but also about continuing to increase car capacity, at great costs in both public dollars and impacts to neighborhoods. At some point, ExpressLanes’ costs may outweigh their benefits.

Learn more about the 110 Freeway flyover at tonight’s hearing, and express your opinions to Caltrans at the meeting. Alternately, through March 21, the public can submit written comments to:

Mr. Garrett Damrath, Chief Environmental Planner,
Division of Environmental Planning, Caltrans District 7
I-110 High-Occupancy Toll Lane Flyover Project
100 South Main Street, MS 16A
Los Angeles, CA 90012
garrett.damrath [at] dot.ca.gov

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