As the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) begins another phase of construction on Lincoln Boulevard in Westchester, some local residents are questioning the progress of another of the transportation agency’s projects that is well under way on the heavily traveled thoroughfare.

Caltrans has been working on improvements to sections of Lincoln Boulevard near Marina del Rey in an effort to accommodate future traffic growth that is anticipated with residential development in the area.

The transportation department is currently in the midst of the first phase of the improvement project for Lincoln, which began in July 2005 and involves widening and realigning the north to south thoroughfare from LMU Drive in Westchester to Bali Way in the Marina area.

The $9 million project, which is divided into three locations, also involves improvements to the intersection of Lincoln and Sepulveda Boulevards in Westchester.

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s work continues on the project’s first phase, Caltrans is set to begin the second phase of improvements this month — a project that involves widening and realigning of Lincoln from La Tijera Boulevard to LMU Drive in Westchester, the addition of a northbound lane and traffic signal modifications.

Caltrans representatives held a community meeting to inform residents about the $5 million project Wednesday, February 28th, at the office of Los Angeles City Councilman Bill Rosendahl in the Westchester Community Center.

The representatives, who included the project manager, Gabe Hamidi and engineers, told community members that the Lincoln project is needed because of issues with impaired coastal access, public safety and traffic congestion.

The project will help reduce existing traffic congestion in the area and improve coastal access, as well as pedestrian and bicycle facilities, the Caltrans speakers said.

When both phases of the project are completed, it will allow for increased road capacity and improved traffic flow and circulation of the busy north-to-south corridor, according to Caltrans.

But residents at the meeting, who say they are frustrated with ongoing traffic congestion as they travel on Lincoln, questioned why Caltrans would start another phase of construction when the first phase is not yet complete.

Playa del Rey resident Karen Kanter said there is no progress being made on the project already under way, which has added to traffic congestion and attracted graffiti.

“Until that gets solved, why are they talking about putting in another project?” Kanter asked.

Kanter added that many of her neighbors would like to see that the first phase be completed before the second phase begins because there are other major local thoroughfares, such as the Marina Freeway (State Route 90) which also currently have work being done. Caltrans has extended the Marina Freeway west beyond Culver Boulevard and is expected to complete the project in the spring.

“We all understand that these projects have to happen, but we can’t have major thoroughfares ripped up at one time,” Kanter said.

Westchester resident Russ Carrington, who owns Action Watersports in Marina del Rey, agreed, saying he is concerned about the impact on businesses and traffic with two projects going on at once.

“It would be nice if they would complete one project before starting another,” Carrington said.

Hamidi, Caltrans project manager, said the department originally expected to complete Phase I before beginning Phase II, but due to some “unforeseen issues,” the project could not be completed before the second phase had to start.

Caltrans engineer Gilbert Trujillo said one of those issues had to do with the soil conditions being different than expected. The project is expected to be finished by summer next year.

Department spokeswoman Judy Gish disputed claims that Caltrans is not making progress on Phase I, saying it is more than 40 percent complete.

“I think we’re definitely making progress,” Gish said. “We’ve had some challenges and we anticipated obstacles but we are working through them.”

Caltrans is beginning Phase II before the first phase improvements are complete because the department had to either start the second phase now or lose its funding for the $5 million project, Hamidi told the residents.

“It has to do with funding — if we don’t use it we will lose it,” Hamidi said. “We had no choice but to start the project.”

Caltrans officials in Los Angeles have to compete for funding against other projects throughout the state, and once the funding is authorized the project must begin by a certain time, Gish said.

“If we had delayed this (Phase II) project we would have completely lost our funding and have had to go back to the very beginning and start over again,” Gish said. “No one foresaw having to be involved in both phases at the same time.”

The second-phase work of widening and realigning Lincoln from La Tijera to LMU Drive is expected to be completed in spring next year.

But Neighborhood Council of Westchester/Playa del Rey member Denny Schneider told the Caltrans representatives that the community still has “serious concerns” related to the Lincoln projects.

Kanter said the construction work on the thoroughfare has become more than just an inconvenience, and is now a “huge quality-of-life issue.”

Some residents expressed concern about the potential effect on area businesses with the widening work being performed between LMU Drive and La Tijera in Westchester.

Carrington said his Action Watersports business in the Marina saw its sales drop 20 percent over a three-month period during another Caltrans project last year.

But Caltrans officials said they expect Phase II’s impact on local businesses to be “minimal.”

Residents also encouraged Caltrans to perform most of the work at night, lessening the impact on commuters.

Gish and a deputy for Rosendahl said they plan to work with the city to study the feasibility of working at night, especially with the Phase II portion.

Gish added that Caltrans will work with the residents to help settle their concerns and ensure that the projects are completed with the least amount of impact possible.

“I think the people are very frustrated and it’s understandable,” Gish said. “I think one of the best ways to counter this is through improved communication and we will put a lot of resources into doing a better job of that.”

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