2012-12-13 / Front Page

Agoura freeway overpass stalls

By Stephanie Bertholdo

CONGESTED CORNER—The overpass bridge at Palo Comado Canyon and Chesebro roads carries a dangerous rating, Caltrans says. 
Courtesy City of Agoura Hills CONGESTED CORNER—The overpass bridge at Palo Comado Canyon and Chesebro roads carries a dangerous rating, Caltrans says. Courtesy City of Agoura Hills The Agoura Hills City Council has decided not to give Caltrans an immediate green light on the U.S. 101/Palo Comado Canyon Road interchange project.

At the Nov. 14 City Council meeting, 12 Old Agoura residents opposed the project, telling council members the project was too large and would adversely affect the community’s semi-rural equestrian zone.

The project calls for widening the overpass at Palo Comado Drive from Chesebro Road to Canwood Street to four lanes—two in each direction— and adding a northbound left-turn lane. Bike lanes and sidewalks were included in the design.

Caltrans has control of the project and based its design on the expected growth in the area over the next 25 years.

The current bridge, which was built in 1963, does not meet Caltrans service and safety standards.

According to Kelly Fisher, public works project manager, the overpass earned a grade between D and F. Fisher said an expansion of the bridge and other improvements would lift the grade to a C or better.

Jess Thomas, president of the Old Agoura Homeowners Association, said the design “amounts to an aircraft carrier over the bridge, over the 101 Freeway. We think it’s entirely superfluous at that site.”

Thomas feels the bridge isn’t as bad as it seems.

Other Old Agoura residents pleaded with the City Council to stop the project.

Richard Watters, who lives on Driver Avenue by Agoura High School, approves of Caltrans adding a northbound left-turn lane to reduce traffic and improve safety.

Mike Colabella, who lives on Colodny Drive in Old Agoura, said repairs also are needed on Driver Avenue near the high school.

Robyn Britton of Old Agoura said the high school traffic can’t be alleviated with a five-lane bridge. Britton was dismayed that the only options offered by Caltrans were to “build or not build” the overpass.

“Residents said don’t build it,” Britton said. “The project is out of scale of the neighborhood, and as such it is a violation of the General Plan.”

Former planning commissioner Phil Ramuno said that during his 10 years on the commission the rule of thumb was to defer to the wishes of residents. He said the level of service on the overpass isn’t as bad as stated.

“Maybe a three-way stop sign is all we need,” Ramuno said.

June Slayton said the project would “forever change” the way of life for Old Agoura residents.

“Not one of you sitting there can tell us the proposed widening of Chesebro Bridge will benefit one single resident of Old Agoura,” Slayton said.

City Council members listened to residents and asked the engineering staff about the public works process.

Ramiro Adeva, the city’s director of public works, said that while current traffic may not justify a widened bridge, Caltrans predicts the demands of the next 25 years will.

“Ultimately, this is (Caltrans’) facility,” Adeva said. “They will decide. If we do nothing it doesn’t prevent Caltrans from doing the improvement however they want to have it done later.”

Assistant City Manager Nathan Hamburger said Caltrans accepts input from the city on issues such as lighting, sidewalks, landscaping and bike lanes, but is less sympathetic when it comes to compromising freeway bridge standards.

Adeva said the city needs to “make a legitimate argument based on the primary concern of safety . . . circulation and things of that nature. I do believe we have input.”

Adeva said plans for standard concrete sidewalks were rejected in favor of a more decorative variety. A traffic signal planned for the intersection was taken out at the suggestion of the city.

“We make it known how we feel as a city,” he said.

The City Council agreed to postpone making a decision until members could study the project further.

Mayor Pro Tem Bill Koehler said he wants to be “more educated” on how Caltrans decided to come up with the project’s design.

Koehler suggested the council revisit the issue in six weeks.

Mayor Denis Weber said he agrees the bridge needs to be widened but not to five lanes.

Councilmember John Edelston suggested that Caltrans build the overpass so that it could be expanded as the need arises.

City Manager Greg Ramirez verified that the city could approach Caltrans with the idea of reducing the impact of the widened bridge by using landscaping or other features that would allow additional lanes to be camouflaged and not opened until needed.

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