In an effort to address a barrage of concerns by Del Rey residents regarding construction on the 405 freeway that has disturbed their neighborhood, representatives from the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) recently attended a Westside community meeting at the invitation of the Del Rey Neighborhood Council.

Judy Gish, public information officer, and Leon Romero, project manager for the transportation agency, answered questions on a variety of subjects that have drawn the ire of homeowners who live near an ongoing freeway improvement project, which Caltrans representatives say will be completed this summer.

A large portion of the $170-million freeway widening project construction between the 90 and the 405 freeways has been done at night, and homeowners who live on or near Purdue Avenue, Youngworth Street and Sawtelle Boulevard have complained about debris from construction, bright lights shining into their homes and the noise levels from machinery that has engulfed their neighborhood for almost four years. Many have stated that Caltrans has ignored or at best, been indifferent to their plight.

A sound wall has been built to quell the sounds of traffic and machinery, but residents and the local council were ready to hear more solutions when Caltrans representatives began their opening remarks.

Some of the questions centered on the transportation departmentís ability to pay for the construction venture, which began in 2005.

ìThe money has been secured to complete this project,î Romero told the audience.

Other residents, like Joanne Laipson, complained about the noise on her street that emanates from the freeway project.

Romero assured her that he would ask his agencyís noise unit to investigate and when the project is completed, the regular shoulder length of freeway will return and sound associated with construction should diminish.

Speaking with The Argonaut after the meeting, Gish acknowledged that there had not been enough dialogue between the two groups and that was the primary reason for the rancor on the part of some of the property owners.

ìWe realized that we had a communication gap, and since then we have taken several measures to address that,î she said. ìWe are putting out our bimonthly construction newsletter that we use to update the residents, we have attempted to take our contractor more firmly in hand, and I believe that the contractor now has a greater appreciation for his responsibility to the community.î

Representatives of the contractor, Balfour Beatty Construction, could not be reached for comment.

Theresa Luo, a member of the neighborhood board, is grateful that the transportation agency sent representatives to meet with her constituents and feels that they were sensitive to the homeownersí concerns.

ìCaltrans was sympathetic to Del Rey residentsí trials during the 405 construction, provided thoughtful solutions to the problems that were raised, and did not dismiss any of our concerns,î Luo told The Argonaut.

That said, she feels that the agency should have taken this action much earlier and perhaps avoided the acrimony that has developed among many of the homeowners who live by the freeway.

ìMy feeling, however, is that Caltrans should have anticipated and mitigated the hardships it caused to Del Reyís residents before they occurred,î Luo asserted. ìTheir actions to date suggest a policy of do first and explain later.

ìOur constituents are angry because Caltrans ignored municipal noise regulations, approved a work schedule which held Del Rey residents hostage to construction trucks parading up and down their residential streets, severely damaging them in the process and hired sub-contractors who were reckless and careless with property.î

Gish said that her agency regrets any miscommunication that has grown during the construction project.

ìWe certainly apologize for any previous instances where we might not have been as responsive as we should have been,î she said.

Luo reiterated that Caltrans should have anticipated the ill feelings that ensued due to the many delays and misfortunes that homeowners have endured.

ìEveryone, including the people at Caltrans, have homes that they retreat to and it is not inconceivable to imagine the horror of large-scale construction next door to your sanctuary,î she said. ìCaltrans did not consider the residents of Del Rey until complaints were made through our government officials and Neighborhood Council.î

Gish says that certain complaints that were discussed in the meeting could be difficult to mitigate due to the nature of the project.

ìThe residences near this project are so close to the freeway, and they always have been,î the Caltrans spokeswoman noted. ìSince we put the sound wall up, I think that a lot of those issues regarding noise have been mitigated.

ìWhen you live next door to a freeway construction project, itís not a very good time.î

Luo acknowledged that Caltrans does seem to be more attentive to the hardships that some of her constituents are facing.

ìOf late, Caltrans has been receptive to our concerns to which I say, better late than never,î she acknowledged. ìWe fully expect them to carefully consider the rest of their construction projects in Del Rey with courtesy to our homes and our standard of living.î

The Neighborhood Council member suggested that municipal departments have a certain obligation to reach out to the residents that they serve and should attend more community meetings to be aware of potential problems that might be occurring.

ìCity agencies have a responsibility to the communities they serve to attend local meetings to answer questions and address concerns of our residents prior to beginning any enterprise,î Luo said.