By Aaron Blevins, 3/08/2012
New York City has Fifth Avenue. In New Orleans, it’s Bourbon Street. In grand Paris, it’s Le Champs-Élysées.
For Los Angeles, Wilshire Boulevard is just as iconic and famous as the aforementioned thoroughfares, but why is it in such a state of disrepair? Neglect, quite possibly, could be the reason.
Los Angeles officials are preparing Wilshire Boulevard for surgery, as the city’s main artery prepares to go under the knife to restore proper blood — or, rather, traffic — flow.
It has been more than 20 years since the street was repaved, and the boulevard is showing its wear. Despite the plethora of potholes drivers attempt to avoid, approximately 160 asphalt repairs have been made on Wilshire Boulevard in the Miracle Mile area since the beginning of the year, according to the city’s Bureau of Street Services.
However, transportation department workers are in the pre-design phase of reconstructing and repaving Wilshire from San Vicente Boulevard to Western Avenue. Construction is expected to commence around May 2013, with the project lasting 18 months.
“This is a great project that will bring great benefit to transit riders,” Los Angeles Department of Transportation (LADOT) division manager Kang Hu said.
He said part of the project will include transforming the curb lanes into bus-only lanes from 7 to 9 a.m. and 4 to 7 p.m. during weekdays. The bus-only lanes will improve transit operations, but they will have impacts on auto traffic, Hu said.
“We hope people will take notice and use public transit more,” he added.
Hu said 14 intersections will be affected, though six have been mitigated through signal timing adjustments and other improvements. He said the impacts will eventually be manageable, as drivers divert to parallel streets or hop on the bus.
“Through time, I think people will adapt,” Hu added.
Michael Brown, of the city’s Bureau of Engineering, said contractors will be completely reconstructing the bus lanes. They will also be fixing the grades at various intersections, allowing the busses to operate faster, he said.
“We’re also overlaying … the entire street so we end up with a nice, new pavement,” Brown said. “It’ll look very nice.”
He said part of the pre-design phase is mitigating traffic impacts. Though traffic as a whole should improve as a result of the project, 18 months of construction on Wilshire will provide some challenges.
“Part of that will be up to the contractor,” Brown said, adding that LADOT will work closely with the contractors to lessen impacts.
Hu said LADOT will have its computerized signal system running, using traffic signals on 3rd Street, 6th Street and Olympic Boulevard to take pressure off Wilshire Boulevard. He said traffic officers will be placed at critical intersections to mitigate potential gridlock.
Officials do not anticipate fully closing Wilshire at any point. At minimum, one lane will be open, Brown said. However, so as to not disturb the many nearby residences at night, construction will occur in the daytime, he said.
The majority of the project will be funded through a $21 million Federal Transit Authority grant that is being administered through the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transit Authority (Metro). The rest of the $28 million project, which includes construction and staff costs, will be funded through Prop. C and gas tax money, Brown said. The project has already been approved by Metro’s board and the Los Angeles City Council.
Wilshire Boulevard, from Western Avenue to La Brea Avenue, was last paved in 1987. La Brea Avenue to Fairfax Avenue was last paved in 1985. Brown speculated that the reason it took so long for Wilshire to be repaved was likely due to budget woes, though it’s not uncommon for a street to go 20 years without being repaved, depending on its condition.
He said the city will be hosting outreach meetings to inform members of the community about the project in the near future.