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Long Beach residents: OC I-405 expansion will cause bottleneck

Traffic is shown creeping along on northbound I-405 during the start to the Memorial Day holiday weekend on May 27, 2011. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images) Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Long Beach area residents are worried plans to add two lanes to 405 Freeway in Orange County will push traffic onto local streets when cars hit the narrower freeway at the Los Angeles County line.

“People are going to say, ‘Wow, I’m cruising along this 405,’ and next thing you know – boom, the bottleneck,” said Long Beach resident Brent Montgomery.

Los Angeles County has no solid plans to widen the 405 Freeway, said Aziz Elattar, executive officer for highway programs at Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

But in light of Orange County's plans, the MTA has ordered a feasibility study on adding one or two lanes for a five mile stretch in Long Beach, between the I-605 interchange north to Cherry Avenue.

“This is just an early study to see how possible something like that would be,” he said. He hasn't identified any funding for the expansion.

About 370,000 cars travel on the between Costa Mesa and Long Beach on I-405 every day, according to the Orange County Transportation Authority. The agency's board agreed this week to spend $1.7 billion to add one free lane and one toll lane to that span of the freeway in each direction.

The widening project is expected to increase traffic on the freeway by 23 percent in both directions. Construction is expected to start in 2018.

An environmental impact report for the project shows the Orange County Transportation Authority will pay for traffic mitigation plans for five intersections in Long Beach that will be hit with traffic jams.

But Long Beach officials don’t feel like that’s going to be enough.

Elattar said transit officials in Los Angeles are also considering other projects that would indirectly relieve congestion in the Long Beach area. They include the 605 and I-5 interchange near Santa Fe Springs and 605-91 Freeway interchange in Bellflower. He said L.A. Metro is also considering converting one lane on the 105 Freeway into a high-occupancy toll lane.

“That would pull traffic off the 405 that wishes to go to LAX into a HOT lane,” Elatter said.  

Retired Long Beach resident Sue Sutton is all for widening the 405 in Orange County. She uses it often to get to Irvine for lunch and book club events - a commute that can take her 90 minutes.

But she's not so excited about the prospect of the increased traffic leeching out to city streets if the expansion stops at Long Beach.

"That would not be good for any of us,” Sutton said. “We have enough traffic in here.”