BY NICK DIAMANTIDES
After seven months of being closed, one of the main gateways to Bixby Knolls is back in operation. The California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) reopened the northbound San Diego Freeway Atlantic Avenue offramp last week.
“We opened it at 9:50 a.m. last Wednesday (Aug. 27),” said Maria Raptis, Caltrans spokesperson. “The slope stabilization process took longer than was originally envisioned, but we are confident that there will be no more mudflows on that ramp.” The agency originally predicted the ramp would reopen in April or May, but the slope stabilization process was delayed for more than one reason.
Caltrans closed the ramp on January 26 because the slope adjacent to it had collapsed during a heavy rainfall causing excessive mud and debris to cover the pavement. “An oil company that owns the property uphill from the ramp did some grading that altered the drainage,” Raptis said. “We believe that the water’s inability to drain properly led to the collapse of the slope.”
Raptis said she did not know the name of the oil company, and she did not know whether the firm had reimbursed Caltrans for the slope’s reconstruction.
“It took some time to get the project going because they had to do geologic boring and an environmental assessment before the work could begin,” she added. “At the same time, we had a tunnel fire on I-5, and repairing that tunnel was a very high priority.”
She explained that the State of California has an emergency road repair fund, but the process of getting money from that fund for specific projects can be slow, especially when other road repairs are given a higher priority. “We awarded the contract for the Atlantic Avenue offramp project in May, and the actual work began on June 23,” Raptis said.
According to Raptis, the construction crews hauled away tons of loose material, rebuilt the drainage system, installed reinforcement fabric on the slope and filled it back with dirt. “They rebuilt 100 feet of slope next to the ramp,” she noted.
“Originally the cost of repairing the slope was estimated at $475,000, but it turned out that the project only cost about $300,000.”
Blair Cohn, executive director of the Bixby Knolls Business Improvement Association, said the offramp reopening was good news to all the business owners in the area north of the freeway. “You could hear a big collective sigh of relief from the whole corridor when the announcement went out,” he said. “People felt that we had all this momentum, and the closure was a roadblock to the good progress being made in Bixby Knolls.”
For the seven months that the offramp was closed, freeway motorists had to take a circuitous route to get to Bixby Knolls. “Any time people have to take a detour to get to a destination, that’s going to negatively impact the businesses,” Cohn said. “We don’t know how many people decided to shop elsewhere because of the inconvenience, but we know that many did.”
He added that he has a list of about 100 items that need to be done to get Bixby Knolls to its maximum potential. “The offramp reopening was on that list,” he said. “I am thrilled that it is open.”
On the evening of the reopening, about 25 cars packed with Bixby Knolls residents and business owners traveled in a procession on the freeway to Atlantic Avenue. Cohn and his assistant, Krista, led the caravan. “There was a little bit of a traffic jam because so many of us got on the offramp all at once,” he said with a chuckle. “But after waiting so many months, we felt we had to do something to celebrate the fact that one of the gateways to Bixby Knolls was open again.”
Raptis said she was glad too. “Caltrans thanks motorists for their patience and understanding during these roadway repairs,” she said.