Traffic may slow to sludge

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Malibu commuters should brace for a PCH nightmare that will last well into next year. The city of Santa Monica has planned a massive sewer repair project, scheduled to begin Nov. 15, that will take away two lanes of the six-lane stretch between Chautauqua and the McClure tunnel. That portion of PCH is the only direct route for thousands of commuters who use the Santa Monica Freeway. The project could add hours to the morning and afternoon commutes, and it will become a way of life until at least May 2000.

Unlike several recent road repair projects, construction on the sewer repair will not be suspended during peak rush hour periods. “The contractor has been cleared to work on the installation 24 hours a day,” said community outreach consultant Vikki Zale. “Besides, they will really need to use those two lanes for their equipment.”

“Even with three lanes, that traffic is a bear,” said Malibu Emergency Services Coordinator Hap Holmwood. “I think it’s going to be slow going from Sunset.” Holmwood adds the project is already behind its original schedule, and the construction work could drag on into July or August. Holmwood suggests commuters use 26th Street in Santa Monica as their main route to and from the freeway.

Almost two miles of the existing sewer line will be replaced with a new, 54-inch line using a technique called “micro-tunneling.” Officials say the size of the old pipeline must be increased in order to capture dry-weather, urban run-off, which can then be treated before it enters Santa Monica Bay. Both Holmwood and Zale say in the long run Malibu will have cleaner beaches.

The 50-year-old clay sewer line underneath the highway was damaged in the Northridge earthquake. “It’s not that it’s dangerous,” noted Zale, “but obviously the longer you leave it, the greater the potential is for something more serious to happen.”

The city is already trying to get the word out to residents in Malibu, Pacific Palisades, Santa Monica and surrounding areas. Large traffic signs have been posted warning of delays and advising commuters to avoid the area. “We are recommending that people leave early or consider an alternate route,” said Zale.

“It’s going to be a long nine months,” Holmwood said. “We have a bad traffic situation in Malibu and we just have to accept that’s the price we pay for living in Paradise.” In the meantime, he says, “I tell people to get those self-improvement tapes and relax.”