Few answers as traffic just creeps along

101 carpool lane still years away


GRIDLOCK—Acorn reader John Thompson took this photo of the all too familiar morning traffic crush on Kanan Road in Agoura Hills where school and work commuters jostle for position.

GRIDLOCK—Acorn reader John Thompson took this photo of the all too familiar morning traffic crush on Kanan Road in Agoura Hills where school and work commuters jostle for position.

Local commuters know all too well the frustration of sitting in traffic. It takes a toll on everyone’s wallet, car and patience. Lately, it seems like every hour is rush hour, especially on the 101 Freeway.

The traffic from Calabasas to Camarillo continues to grow and now mirrors the slow-and-go crawl seen regularly on the freeways crisscrossing Los Angeles County. It’s a topic of conversation that dominates elections, social media blogs and city council meetings whenever talk of a new development comes to town.

 

 

Hampered by a poor public transportation system and an ever-increasing population, it appears there are no quick fixes to the traffic problems here.

More than double

Local commuters are familiar with the ugly twin bottlenecks at Lynn Road and Las Virgenes Road along the 101. And over the past 20 years—between 1995 and 2015—traffic has increased 136 percent where the 118 and 23 highways meet at the east end of Moorpark, Caltrans spokesperson Michael Comeaux said.

So too, does traffic remain heavy north along the 118 at Princeton Avenue, where Caltrans reports that the daily count of cars passing through that area has risen 58 percent from 52,000 in the mid-1990s to 82,000 in 2015.

Plans to widen Princeton Avenue— a longtime goal of the Moorpark City Council—continue to drag on as Caltrans has yet to sign off on the final right-of-way agreement. City officials said they hope work can begin by early 2018

Several factors are pumping cars onto the 118, said Keith Millhouse, who held seats on the Moorpark City Council and Ventura County Transportation Commission.

“Truck traffic is being diverted onto the 118 because of congestion on other routes and an increase in traffic at (Port Hueneme),” he said.

Moorpark residents have for years voiced their frustration over heavy truck traffic on Los Angeles Avenue, much of which diverts from the 101 to avoid the California Highway Patrol’s weigh station at the top of the Conejo Grade in Newbury Park. Truckers also cut through Moorpark and Somis because it’s a more direct route through the heart of the county.

Officials say population plays a part in driving up traffic numbers, but in Moorpark’s case, the rise in daily car trips significantly outpaces population growth.

While Moorpark’s population has increased about 30 percent in the past two decades— from 28,000 in 1995 to 36,000 in 2015—the traffic numbers have increased by triple digits in some parts of the city. The math doesn’t add up.

Millhouse said the changing jobs market play a role in how traffic flows. More and more commuters are heading out of the county to find better-paying jobs so they can afford to live locally, he said.

“Traffic is somewhat like water— it wants to take the path of least resistance,” Millhouse said. “With the failure of the county to improve some of the main arteries like the 101 and the 126, you’re seeing traffic creep onto the 118.”

Nestled between Camarillo and Moorpark, Somis has also seen a swell in traffic. At the intersection of Somis Road (Highway 34) and Los Angeles Avenue (the 118), traffic has grown by 70 percent over the past 20 years.

“It is an increase that has the attention of Caltrans as we look to make safety enhancements,” Comeaux said.

Last year, road crews completed work on the Donlon Road realignment project in Somis to relieve pressure at the busy intersection. Donlon Road was moved 200 feet to the west to align with the traffic signal where the 118 and 34 meet.

Camarillo and the 101

Motorists heading south on the 34 into Camarillo may not have to deal with the 118 traffic, but the number of cars traveling the 101, which cuts through the city, has certainly risen in the past 20 years.

According to Caltrans, the daily number of cars passing Las Posas Road in Camarillo has increased 25 percent over the past 20 years, from 116,000 in the mid-1990s to 148,000 in 2015.

Unlike Moorpark, Camarillo’s population increase—56,000 in 1995 and 68,500 in 2015—more closely matches the rise in traffic.

Tom Fox, Camarillo’s assistant city manager, said the 101 traffic is also be driven by an improving economy.

“ Typically, when people are out of work, there’s less discretionary income and travel,” he said. But the improved economy has put drivers back on the road, Fox said.

Comeaux said the carpool lane being planned on the 101 from Thousand Oaks to Ventura will help ease the traffic flow. Construction, though, could be a decade away.

Road tax fails

Despite the dire situation, voters still couldn’t stomach Prop. 64 (Measure AA), an initiative to establish a half-cent sales tax that VCTC brought to the November 2016 ballot. The measure was expected to raise about $70 million per year for 30 years, but failed.

The Ventura County transportation tax would have been used to improve streets, freeways, pedestrian and bike paths, as well as bus and rail systems.

Gas tax approved

A new and controversial statewide gas tax increase signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in April likely means county residents will be paying for road repairs anyway. California lawmakers said the state faces a $59 billion shortfall in road repair funds in the next 10 years. What’s more, the bill says cities and counties face a $78 billion shortfall over the next decade to fix roadways.

The new bill raises gas taxes by 12 cents per gallon in November, increasing to 19.5 cents in 2020. Diesel taxes will jump by 20 cents per gallon and diesel sales taxes by 4 percent.

It will also require zero-emission car owners to pay $100 a year through vehicle registration to pay for road improvements starting in 2020. Vehicle registration fees for all cars will also increase by 2018.

The spikes in taxes and fees aren’t sitting well with voters and conservative lawmakers, and there may be additional legislation down the road that will curb the increases and better define where and how the state can spend the money.

What’s county’s share?

VCTC said the county can expect to receive $147 million from the state gas tax, but the money can only be used on local roadways, not freeways or highways.

“All cities in Ventura County will see their roads’ budgets double under this proposal,” said Assemblymember Jacqui Irwin (D-Camarillo), who voted for the gas tax.

“While this decision was very difficult, it is the only prudent way to ensure our transportation infrastructure does not continue to deteriorate,” Irwin said.