Sewer repair will create more congestion on PCH


Driving the scenic Pacific Coast Highway to Los Angeles may take even longer as sewer lines are replaced underneath the highway near the Santa Monica Pier next month.

The continuing project was planned to start again in September, but Caltrans asked to extend the date to October because there is residual tourist traffic until then, said Vikki Zale, Santa Monica community outreach consultant for the sewer repair project.

The 50-year-old coastal interceptor sewer underneath PCH, severely damaged in the Northridge earthquake, also needs to be enlarged.

One of the reasons for increasing the size of the old pipeline is to capture dry-weather urban runoff so it can be treated. While the work was to be completed by Memorial Day, the construction project encountered unanticipated problems. Boulders were found in the soil, which were not discovered during the soil testing phases. Because of the finding, new equipment was needed and the project was delayed.

“You just never know what you are going to find,” said Zale, explaining the work takes place 25 feet or more below the ground.

The sewer was built 50 years ago and no records exist to show what was under there at the time, said Zale. But, according to Zale, the impact, or the work, will be minimized, as only one lane on PCH in each direction will be closed to traffic during the work.

The work will close two lanes total, for less than a mile, leaving four lanes available for traffic. Since the city will be working on the west side, traffic will be shifted over, said Zale.

“To be more prudent and have less impact on people, the continuing project was split in two sections,” said Zale.

The one starting in October will take place between the 1440 PCH lot and work up to the California incline. It is expected to last until Memorial Day 2001.

The second phase will begin October 2001 and continue until Memorial Day 2002.

Traffic is not expected to be a problem based on last year’s experience, said Zale.

“Traffic was initially good because people took alternate routes,” she said.

Signs were posted all over to let people know that construction began. For example, signs were posted on the 101 Freeway in the Conejo Valley to minimize traffic originating from that area, so that the extra vehicles would not burden local commuters who do not have an alternate route in and out of L.A.

But with time, people started to ignore the signs and delays increased as a result, she said.

A PCH task force, implemented two years ago by Assemblywoman Sheila Kuehl to coordinate the agencies responsible for PCH, meets regularly to discuss and solve issues about the highway.

The task force receives feedback on traffic control from local authorities and then forwards recommendations to Caltrans.

“It’s important to have representation of all jurisdictions to work on coordination issues,” said Lori Newman, a representative who leads the task force meetings.

The next PCH task force meeting will take place Sept. 21 at the Ken Edwards Center in Santa Monica.

Malibu representatives also attend the meetings, however, the city is not directly involved with the sewer project because it is under the jurisdiction of Santa Monica.

Chuck Bergson, Public Works director, said Malibu councilmembers have met with Santa Monica officials and expressed their concerns about the project.

But, overall, traffic on PCH is congested most of the time.

“I have experienced a lot more traffic going south as opposed to going north,” said Mary Lou Blackwood, executive vice president for the Malibu Chamber of Commerce.

However, the recent delays may be attributed to other problems.

Delays have occurred near Topanga Canyon because traffic lights favor incoming Valley traffic and little time is allotted for east and west bound PCH traffic.

But ultimately, people in Malibu only have two choices, the 101 or the highway, said Blackwood.

While repairs are done, traffic will inevitably be affected because PCH already suffers from overuse and lack of space, creating congestion in numerous locations.

Though Santa Monica officials are not happy about the prospect of delaying traffic, the costly and lengthy work has to be done on the aging sewer system that serves the City of L.A. (by 70 percent) and Santa Monica (30 percent).

“There was a lot of advance notice, so people understood and they are more patient,” said Zale. “We realize that there are going to be impacts and we are trying to get this over with.

“Who knows when the next earthquake is going to be. We are trying to avoid further damage that would cause PCH to completely close down.”