2013-02-07 / Community

City further explores new Chesebro overpass

By Stephanie Bertholdo

THE WAY IT IS—The overpass bridge at Palo Comado Canyon and Chesebro roads carries a dangerous rating, Caltrans says. 
Courtesy City of Agoura Hills THE WAY IT IS—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 agreed to move forward on a portion of the U.S. 101/Palo Comado Canyon ( Chesebro) Road interchange project but said the move should not be viewed as a green light for construction of a new overpass.

Council members at the Jan. 23 meeting approved the creation by Caltrans of a plans, specifications and estimates document. Without the document, the council says it cannot make an informed decision about whether the huge public works project is warranted.

Ramiro Adeva, director of public works for Agoura Hills, presented information from a separate 2009 study that appeared to favor the expansion of the overpass to five lanes, including a left-turn lane onto the freeway, a new traffic signal, and bike lanes and pedestrian walkways in each direction.

The report analyzed the existing bridge and freeway ramps and offered four construction options, from doing nothing to a complete bridge replacement.

Adeva said approval of the Caltrans document was not an approval for construction but just a means to obtain further information from the state highway agency about the city’s options.

Some of the five intersections and the one-lane overpass need to be improved, according to another study one year later. The one-lane overpass and the intersection at Driver Avenue and Chesebro Road earned an “F” grade in the 2010 study for morning traffic, and Palo Comado Canyon Road at the 101 northbound ramps got a D for levels of service in the morning.

But not all intersections near the overpass are considered critical by Caltrans and the city.

In 2010, Dorothy Drive at the 101 southbound ramps earned a C in the morning and a B at night.

The two-way stop at Palo Comado and Chesebro roads received a C in the study for both morning and evening traffic.

The traffic study awarded the intersection at Agoura and Chesebro roads an A for its level of service in the morning and a B for evening traffic.

But the study showed that the level of service at Driver and Chesebro and Palo Comado at the 101 northbound ramps will fail by 2015 if no improvements are made. Adeva said a traffic signal installed at Palo Comado and the ramps would raise the level of service to an A.

To improve traffic on the overpass to a passing grade, at least two lanes must be constructed, Adeva said.

A sticking point for many Old Agoura residents is the proposed expansion of the overpass from 40 feet, 5 inches to 88 feet. By comparison, the Reyes Adobe Bridge was expanded in 2011 to 95 feet.

Safety concerns

Adeva said the accident rate at the northbound 101 off-ramp is greater than the state average, and the lack of a left-turn lane onto the on-ramp means a greater potential for rear-end collisions.

No bike lanes exist on either side of the bridge and there is no sidewalk on the east side.

“Safety and circulation issues don’t go away,” Adeva said, adding that the needs of the entire community have to be considered in public works projects.

Old Agoura residents spoke out against the project.

Jess Thomas, president of the Old Agoura Homeowners Association, said the proposed expansion would change the character of Old Agoura and a larger overpass would bring sprawl to an area in the city that strives to maintain a small-town, rural ambiance.

“It’s clear to us that staff wants this project,” Thomas said. “You can’t pave your way out of traffic congestion.”

Phil Ramuno, a former planning commissioner for the city, questioned the validity of the traffic studies. He said adding a traffic light should be enough to reduce traffic.

“Traffic control at the northbound ramp is what we need,” Ramuno said.

Jean Luc Nouzille, owner of Ladyface Ale Co. restaurant, said traffic has decreased over the years, in part because Americans are aging, young people are moving to urban hubs and many people now work from home.

Meryl Platzer, a neurologist who has lived in Old Agoura for many years, called the proposed bridge expansion a “monstrosity.”

Clifton von Buck, a newcomer to Old Agoura, said he doesn’t believe the city cares much about horses. He said a bigger bridge could be a hazard for people who ride their horses in the equestrian arena.

“I see a government body going against its constituency,” von Buck said.

More information needed

“I always thought that bridge needed to be fixed,” Mayor Denis Weber said, adding that staff should help Caltrans understand the city’s point of view in respect to scaling back the project.

Councilmember John Edelston said the council needs more facts, not fewer.

“We need to look ahead well into the future, not just now,” he said. “We have the money here now.”

Councilmember Bill Koehler said the city needs more information that only the new Caltrans study can provide. He said he was against the five-lane overpass option.

Councilmember Harry Schwarz said the city’s General Plan does not require expansion of the bridge but does acknowledge the possibility that the need could arise.

“According to staff and Caltrans, a need has arisen,” said Schwarz, but he added that five lanes might be too intense for the Old Agoura neighborhood.

Councilmember Illece Buckley Weber said, “We all agree that a left-hand turn is necessary. The more cars (that are diverted) into the northbound left-turn lane the better. I’m more comfortable with three lanes. A five-lane . . . bridge doesn’t work there.”

Adeva said Caltrans may be amenable to the city council’s wishes for a less obtrusive project. But if the need for further expansion arises, public funding may not be available.

The City Council unanimously voted in favor of doing the Caltrans study, which will be completed by summer 2015.

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