County transportation officials have confirmed that the I-405 Sepulveda Pass Improvements Project is now 13 months behind schedule, pushing back the estimated completion date to mid-2014.
David Murphy, president of Angelenos Against Gridlock, isn't happy about the delay.
"We want to see everything up to running as fast as possible, and 13 months to get everything done just doesn't work," Murphy said.
Murphy said the problems are reflective of a larger problem in Los Angeles.
"We have to really start thinking bigger and break the status quo of how slowly we do things in L.A.," he said.
Dave Sotero, a spokesman for L.A. County Metro, said as far as construction goes, project managers have to balance the needs of drivers and the surrounding community.
“Right now the contractor is working day and night in order to complete the project," Sotero said. "Work that we're not able to do at night — because of noise factors that are going to interrupt neighboring residences — we move to the daytime, but what that does is add congestion during daytime commutes.”
Marc Littman, Metro's director of public relations, said Murphy's characterization of the delay is inaccurate.
"What's misleading is it makes it sound like we're going to wait until [mid-2014] to open up the various elements of the project, and that's not true," Littman said.
Littman did concede the project is about a year behind schedule, and said the "major challenge" was moving Sepulveda Boulevard to the east in order to widen the freeway.
"It entailed a lot of utility relocation, and there's a lot of utilities under Sepulveda," Littman said. "The equivalent of one thousand gasoline trucks a day go under Sepulveda, that's how much fuel is pumped through there. There's all these different utilities – water, gas, fiber optics."
The original completion date for the project, said Littman, was mid-2013. Now that's been pushed back to mid-2014, so "technically, [protestors] could say, 'Well, the total project, it's going to take one more year beyond the original schedule.' "
But he emphasized the work is being finished gradually. "As we complete work, we're opening up the benefits to motorists," he said. "We're not waiting 13 months from now so they can experience it."
In other words, Metro and contractors are checking items off its list, and the last item won't be checked off until mid-2014. But Littman said drivers will see a lot of changes well before then.
"By the end of the year all the utility work will be done," he said. "All the bridges, the Mulholland and Skirball Center bridges, will have been torn down and reconstructed. The Wilshire ramps will be completely done. Ninety percent of the on- and off-ramp work will be done. Eighty percent of the retaining sound walls and 90 percent of underpasses and structures will be done."
Toughing it out
Debbie Nussbaum lives in Westwood Hills, which she refers to as "ground zero" of the freeway construction. Her neighborhood is bordered by Sunset Boulevard to the north, Wilshire Boulevard to the south and Sepulveda Boulevard to the west.
“They work at night a lot, so anytime we go to a play, or a friend's house, or a class late at night, and you come home past 10 o'clock, Sepulveda's closed, freeway exits are closed," she said.
But Nussbaum says she understands delays happen, and although she believes the project's planners could have thought things through a little more, she plans to tough out the inconvenience. She's also got advice for drivers in the meantime:
"I think the answer is find a friend and carpool, and you get home faster," she said.
Littman said Metro is looking into whether the work can be expedited, but for now, he simply apologizes to nearby homeowners and commuters and said the county and contractors "fully recognize" the inconvenience.
"It's a mess," he said. "It's very challenging for the people who have to drive through there, let alone live there. The last thing we want to do is to be there any longer than we have to."