Closure of off ramp for Atlantic Avenue upsets some in Bixby

atlantic-avenue.jpgBy Nick Diamantides
Staff Writer

Caltrans closed one of the Atlantic Avenue off ramps on the 405 Freeway about two months ago, but it looks as if it could be reopened in a couple of weeks.
“We closed the ramp at the end of January because the slope adjacent to the ramp had collapsed,” said Judy Gish, Caltrans spokeswoman. “We are just about to let an emergency contract for repairs to the ramp and those repairs should start soon.”
The blocked off ramp has several people in the business community up in arms. They’re telling state and local officials that Bixby Knolls businesses are losing customers because of it.
The closure affects drivers heading north on the 405. If those drivers want to head north on Atlantic, they must take the southbound off ramp, drive about 1/4 mile, turn into the Home Depot parking lot and make a u-turn before they can proceed into Bixby Knolls.
“Several weeks ago, after a heavy rain, a lot of mud flowed into the off ramp,” said Mike Johnson, owner of Arnold’s Restaurant, explaining that he normally uses that off ramp every day on his way to work. “Now it’s been closed for too long,” he said.
Johnson noted that quite a few of his customers have complained to him that it is hard to get to his restaurant. Other business owners have heard similar comments and the concern is that—in our convenience-driven culture—many of them will simply choose to eat or shop elsewhere.
“We’re getting a lot of complaints from the business community about that,” added Thor Carlson, owner of Thor’s Antiques and president of the Bixby Knolls Business Improvement Association (BKBIA) “Obviously, I can’t do anything about it, but it needs to be fixed. People feel that their businesses are being impacted by that.”
Eighth District Councilwoman Rae Gabelich noted that several people have also called her office to voice their concerns about the off ramp closure. She explained that she and her staff had contacted county and state officials in hopes of expediting the reopening of the freeway exit.
“Caltrans is saying that it was a fault of Target, and Target is not accepting responsibility,” she said.
Blair Cohn, executive director of the BKBIA, said that Caltrans officials he had contacted told him that the state agency was hoping to resolve the issue of whether Target should be held liable for the work that needed to be done to reopen the off ramp and to ensure that a heavy rainfall would not cause a similar mud flow in the future.
Apparently, according to Cohn, Target had made some changes to the landscaping above the off ramp, and Caltrans was blaming those changes for the mud flow.
“I can understand why Caltrans would want to make sure it gets compensated for any costs resulting from work that needs to be done on the slope adjacent to the off ramp,” Johnson said. “But my feeling is let’s get this thing done and litigate it later.”
He noted that a Caltrans official told him that soils engineers are studying the slope to see exactly what needs to be done to prevent a similar incident during the next heavy rain.
“My feeling is it’s not likely that we are going to get any heavy rains until much later in the year,” he stressed. “Why not open the off ramp to traffic and put some sandbags down to prevent runoff while the engineers are studying the slope?”
Johnson said he has not noticed a decrease in business at Arnolds, but he and many business people and residents in the area are bothered by what appears to be another simple problem taking a long time to fix because of bureaucratic delays.
Gish said she could not comment on whether there was a dispute with Target or on what has been determined by soils engineers.
Cohn said the closure was a stumbling block to the progress being made in Bixby Knolls. “We have so much good momentum going for us up here, but just like an engine, we need to have all pistons working together,” he said. “We have to have complete access from all areas in order for our businesses to continue to prosper.”
Gish said a repair contract would probably be signed this week and, if all goes well, the off ramp could be reopened as early as two weeks from now.
“I hope that is the case,” Johnson said. “On top of the recession and gas prices, this is just one more thing that is hurting business, and it’s time to fix it.”

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