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

  • Joe Linton

    Low blow, I know – but: who knew Caltrans actually had a “Bridge Aesthetics Unit”??!?!

  • Alex Brideau III

    As a former user of the Adams offramp, I am most certainly not a fan of the current ramp. It requires an awkward traffic light setup in its current state that makes me cringe at the various close calls I’ve observed there. That said, something special will need to be done with the flyover ramp to ensure that its traffic slows to appropriate street speeds before it merges with the northbound Figueroa traffic.

    Now, if the flyover could be replaced with a busway connection along the 110 and 101 to Union Station, then I’d certainly be sold on ditching the ramp.

  • Juan Matute

    Sounds like cosmetic dentistry

  • Jerard Wright

    That is the key bit for me is this extension would help the very Silver Line other express buses that are currently stuck for 2-3 light cycle and have bus bunching the rest of the way through Downtown LA. Would there be this much opposition if this ramp extension were buses only?

  • Joe Linton

    If bus speed is the objective, the project could do bus-only lanes on the surface streets – for pennies on the dollar I expect (politically difficult, I know)

  • AJ

    There’s certainly good and bad to this proposal. It could reduce delay for the Silver Line, but could lead to the same mess as the Express Lanes entrance next to Union Station. I’m torn.

  • Jerard Wright

    It’s not bus speed but bus reliability. That is a major chokepoint for Silver Line buses. You couldn’t get that off-ramp to have a dedicated bus lane because with the merge there’s barely enough space for what’s there and once there do you really think a dedicated lane there and then again on Adams will help where the very turning radii of the buses come into play.

  • Alex Brideau III

    Speaking of which, I’d recommend changing the title of the article as this project does not actually “Threaten [the] Historic Church” but rather *views* of the historic church. Unless, of course, I misread the article and overlooked something.

  • D G Spencer Ludgate

    That was the original idea when the 110 stub was left hanging twenty years ago. But let’s face it, in order build a busway/HOV/HOT through to Union Station would require L.A.’s version of Boston’s “Big Dig”. It is simply too expensive.

  • D G Spencer Ludgate

    I second Alex. Please change the tittle. It reeks of Hearst’s Yellow Journalism and Murdoch’s sensationalism.

    I may disagree with StreetsBlog’s anti-car slant; but I appreciate the fact that it is an excellent source for all things transit. (I also respect the fact that my pragmatic opinions can be debated, mostly, in a civilized environment.) Simply put, I can still respect the quality of the material even though I may disagree with the mission. By using misleading headlines, you lose respect for the quality of your journalism.

  • D G Spencer Ludgate

    As someone who has cycled down Cahuenga Blvd by the Hollywood Bowl, I know how hairy of an experience it can be merging with freeway speed vehicles. Even traveling at 40+ mph, in the left tire track, your heart skips a beat as you pass the Hollywood Freeway Highland Avenue off-ramp to your right. You pray that no motorist decides to occupy the space you are in to their left.

    That said, this flyover looks as if it is dropping off on Figueroa Way not directly on Figueroa Street. Unlike the Highland Off-ramp I described above, motorists could have a traffic signal instead of a high-speed merge. With proper signal timing and strict enforcement of “No Turn on Red”, it should be safe for cyclists.

  • ubrayj02

    Rage comics were made for projects like this. I tried to comment a few hours ago but broke my keyboard hammering on it in anger.

  • Erik Knutzen

    I go to this cathedral which has already suffered the incredible noise and pollution of the 110 for many years now. St. John’s functions a lot like the National Cathedral does in Washington D.C., serving as an ecumenical “house of prayer for all people.” It hosts many concerts and events. Built in 1925, it’s visually stunning inside and out. Symbolically and physically, this overpass would separate the church from the disadvantaged neighborhood to the east. And it would further blight this stretch of Adams Avenue. I was at the meeting tonight and the neighborhood also does not want this project. Several speakers mentioned how other cities around the world are pulling down overpasses (like San Francisco did after the Loma Prieta earthquake). It seems strange to propose building a new one, especially given the coming improvements on Figueroa. And speaking of those improvements, I think it would be unwise to dump freeway speed traffic right on top of the new bike lanes which is what this proposal would do.

  • LAifer

    Why couldn’t this be a bus exit only? Certainly they’re carrying far more travelers along the express lanes, and they’d generate a lot less friction for people walking and biking along MyFig.

  • Joe Linton

    It could – but there are probably better ways to spend $43M for bus improvements

  • Joe Linton

    Theoretically, they could and should add a signal… though there’s no signal there now (at Figueroa Way and Figueroa St) https://www.google.com/maps/@34.0296061,-118.2747873,3a,75y,19.77h,71.77t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1s1NFBaCZMaJXth53R54G9Qw!2e0!7i13312!8i6656 and nothing in the environmental documents says there would be. It looks like a ped- and bike-killer merge lane to me.

  • calwatch

    You have lots of cars trying to make the right from Adams to NB Figueroa, since they are barred from using Figueroa Way. They are looking for gaps in the pedestrian traffic to make their turns. The flyover will eliminate one conflict point. Put a signal NB Express Lanes offramp to NB Figueroa.

  • calwatch

    There’s no signal there because the only vehicles that legally can use Figueroa Way are buses.

  • BrettinSF

    I guess I didn’t realize that the comments section had been hijacked by the pro car lobby/keep LA in the 1950s mentality as the world moves forward lobby. Three key points:

    – Any further expansion of roadway in this area will induce further demand for automobile use, and create a network effect of more cars and more congestion on surrounding streets

    – This Flyover will impede future options for grade separation of Expo

    – Why not use this money to increase robustness of other mode infrastructure such as expo, bike, ped etc.? There is already too much freeway capacity in to DTLA, and any further expansion will just contribute to congestion (read Sepulveda Pass)

  • calwatch

    The comments section is what it is. It’s not been hijacked by anyone. Adding the flyover could help make the intersection of Adams and Figueroa safer because of reduction of right turn vehicle conflict. It would greatly improve transit reliability on the Silver Line, which everyone forgets.

  • Jose Escobar

    It’s just an off-ramp. Most of it over streets below just before going down to Fig Way. How is it contributing to the further breakup of the neighborhood? This is still an urban neighborhood, not a suburban part of town. And ruining views of the church? Is that any real reason to oppose a project that will ease traffic and speed up Bus lines exiting? I don’t get why everything in LA is so vehemently opposed because of ‘views’.

  • Dennis_Hindman

    Not true. On Google maps there is another lane on Figueroa Way that merges with a bus only lane before exiting onto Figueroa St.

  • ubrayj02

    “Ease traffic and speed bus lines” – oh, ok, like all the other expanded freeways and off-ramps have done over the decades?

    But this one is different! This time, it will actually work!

  • ubrayj02

    Good: engineers meet standards with their designs!

    Bad: this is everything we should not be doing in our city today.

  • BrettinSF

    Calwatch, read my comment above RE: INDUCED DEMAND… this is not a fantasy, this is an engineering rprinciple that has been proven for a very long time. There is a reason cities around the world are reducing lane miles resulting in increased livability. And as to Jose Escobar above: yes flyovers do break up neighborhoods… its as if no one here has ever taken a basic class in economics, engineering or planning.

  • Laura Meyers

    Hello, introducing myself as a longtime West Adams District resident. I think some of you are missing the point: This is a FLYOVER offramp that is not only extremely close to St. John’s Cathedral, it also looms up in the air near multiple other historic resources, and adjacent to two very large apartment buildings, and will have impacts ranging from aesthetics/visual impact to significant air quality and noise affecting residents and worshipers alike. Because it is UP. IN. THE. AIR. And for what? To move HOV and “HOT” commuters (the latter including single drivers who pay tolls) perhaps 30 seconds to a few minutes more quickly to their destination in Downtown. Basically, this changes the offramp for the HOV/HOT lane from Adams to 23rd/Figueroa. That intersection happens to already be awful, and — unlike the current set-up — drops the cars and busses within yards of two schools, one of which we learned at the hearing last night has 700 students. So that’s an impact in addition to the potential problem of dumping these vehicles at the new bike lanes of My Fig. Are there other solutions? Hard to tell from the provided documents — apparently 13 alternatives were studied, but not revealed; only two (the proposal and “no build”) are currently being presented. Which makes the current proposed environmental clearance completely inadequate, on a technical basis. ALSO, just to add some “scary” to the mix, in the Northridge earthquake you’ll probably remember that an overpass swayed and broke, leading to the death of a motorcycle officer. Swaying of these bridges is something that does happen during seismic activity — but how much sway will be a part of this 55-foot-high overpass? I asked that question at a smaller community meeting with Caltrans and Metro a year ago, and they did NOT answer it in the current documents. In fact, the MND says there is no likelihood of liquifaction during a quake — no evidence of that presented — even though in fact this site sits on the former, likely sand, riverbed of the Los Angeles River (100+ years ago) before it was diverted to its current course.

  • calwatch

    What is that no right turn sign then for?

  • calwatch

    Yes, I am a licensed engineer and know about induced demand, thank you. However, an additional lane or two here, which merely replaces what is already there, will not induce significant demand. The ramp can and should be tolled for congestion pricing, and the Silver Line riders will benefit through saved travel time. Even two minutes shaved off a 66 minute Carson-El Monte travel time, or 3%, would help greatly in reducing Metro’s operating cost for the Silver Line.

  • Dennis_Hindman

    To prevent motorists from turning onto Flower St, which is a one way street where motorists travel in the opposite direction of motorists that would turn right.

  • Hi Laura,

    Welcome, and thanks for posting.

  • D G Spencer Ludgate
  • D G Spencer Ludgate

    I have turned onto Figueroa Way. It is what you use when exiting Adams, but going northbound on Figueroa Street.

  • D G Spencer Ludgate

    Fight to have the signal installed. The ramp is long enough to accommodate a two minute back-up. The last thing we need is 50 mph traffic merging on to Figueroa.

  • Alexander Vucelic

    more cars are never safer

    faster cars are never safer

    removing sidewalks is never safer

  • In the past, no. But if ultimately approved, it’s likely that there will be more autonomous vehicles on the roads. Those will be safer.

  • They could always just accomplish it with real dedicated lanes and TSP on existing roadways.

  • Alexander Vucelic

    more cars are Never safer

  • What was once a premier neighborhood in Los Angeles and example the City Beautiful movement was long ago effed over by the car culture.

  • Don Ward

    WHAT!? Where are the Fix the City people and the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative people? These people lose their minds over all sorts of projects that obscure views of historic buildings. I hope the get involved in the resistance to this madness.

  • Fcuk you

    Jim Treadaway and Shirley Lau at it again.

  • Alex Brideau III

    I don’t think that Figueroa Way is for buses only (anymore). I believe that used to be the case several years ago, but then it was open to either HOT and/or general car traffic since then.


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