PCH and Hawthorne Blvd. traffic

After years of planning, work is expected to begin early next year on the oft-congested thoroughfare of PCH and Hawthorne Blvd, which lacks dual left-turn lanes or dedicated right-turn lanes in Torrance on Tuesday, December 15, 2020. (Photo by Brittany Murray, Press-Telegram/SCNG)

Torrance will finally be ready to shovel dirt, instead of piles of state-required paperwork, early next year on a long-awaited $9 million project to improve the chronic congestion that torments motorists attempting to navigate the intersection of Pacific Coast Highway and Hawthorne Boulevard.

“This is a major milestone for this project,” said Steve Finton, interim deputy director of the Public Works Department. “We believe the project will take seven to eight months to complete and should be complete by the end of 2021.”

The intersection, which sits on Torrance’s busiest commercial corridor, is also heavily used by commuters heading south up the Palos Verdes Peninsula or west to Redondo Beach.

But it lacks dual left-turn lanes or dedicated right turn lanes, resulting in traffic jams, especially during morning and evening rush hours.

Because both roads are state highways, the California Department of Transportation has jurisdiction over for the intersection.

Planning for what is actually a $19.6 million project in total, including the construction, began about two decades ago, before the state shelved it for budgetary reasons.

That prompted the city to take the lead on the project.

In fact, preliminary work began eight years ago when the city began acquiring the right-of-way needed to improve the intersection, which required the relocation of utilities and some nearby businesses and the demolition of the buildings that housed them.

But having to go through the state slowed project planning and design.

The city, Finton estimated, could have shaved as much as eight years off the planning time if it didn’t have to get state approval for virtually every facet of the project.

“Do you see the irony?” Mayor Pat Furey asked. “We’re doing a project to make traffic go faster and it takes forever to get through the process.

“We keep plodding along and eventually we’re going to get through it,” he added. “This is the best news in at least 10 years that we’re really that close to (starting work).”

That’s expected to begin before the end of the first quarter of 2021. City officials said they plan on doing a public-outreach campaign before work starts to alert motorists to expect construction-related delays.

Work will also include new traffic signals, street lights and sidewalks.

The City Council on Tuesday, Dec. 15, unanimously approved the project.

At the same meeting, Councilman Mike Griffiths, who called the bureaucratic delays “unbelievable,” observed the city was likely to go through exactly the same ordeal to improve the nearby intersection of Pacific Coast Highway and Crenshaw Boulevard.

He suggested revisiting an old proposal that would have the city assume responsibility for the roads from the state.

City Manager Aram Chaparyan said officials had already broached the idea with Caltrans.

But, Chaparyan said, city officials were waiting to hear back from the state. How soon they will receive a response, however, is unknown.

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