In an effort to improve traffic congestion on the I-110 Freeway, the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) has proposed constructing a two-lane "flyover" ramp in the heart of University Park. The ramp, which would reach approximately 55 feet at its highest point, would allow drivers to exit the freeway at Figueroa Way and 23rd Street, thereby reducing vehicle wait times at Adams Boulevard.
If constructed, the proposed I-110 Flyover would create a new physical barrier between the historic St. John's Cathedral and the surrounding neighborhood, obstructing key viewsheds and degrading the overall character of the community. In addition to St. John's, the ramp would be in close proximity to a range of historic resources, including St. Vincent de Paul Church, the Automoblie Club of Southern California, the Thomas Stimson House, and the University Park Historic Preservation Overlay Zone (HPOZ).
In 2010 Caltrans attempted to claim the proposed flyover would have no adverse impact on St. John's Cathedral or the community and initially proceeded with a Mitigated Negative Declaration (MND). The Conservancy and other community groups objected. Based on May, 2018 lawsuit filing by West Adams Heritage Association (WAHA), Caltrans settled, agreed to suspend activities and prepare an Environmental Impact Report (EIR).
Despite no support from the community or a clear need, Caltrans is expected to spend $7.8 million toward the environmental review and approval process for this proposed project.
While the Flyway project has remained quiet since 2018 the Conservancy continues to monitor its progress.
Caltrans first proposed a two-lane flyover ramp in University Park in 1990, but abandoned the project in response to community outcry. The original proposal was lower height and smaller in overall scale than the current proposal. The project was revived in 2013, and Caltrans began studying traffic improvements with funding from the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro).
The Conservancy is working closely with the West Adams Heritage Association (WAHA), St. John's Cathedral, and other community stakeholders to identify alternative solutions to the proposed project that would reduce or eliminate direct and indirect impacts to historic resources. In particular, we are concerned that Caltrans has failed to provide clear and compelling evidence to substantiate the purpose and need for the proposed project, including cost-benefit analysis of the proposed ramp in comparison to other alternatives.
As currently proposed, the flyover ramp would allow vehicles in toll lanes to bypass congested intersections at Flower Street and Adams Boulevard, thereby alleviating traffic at what Caltrans describes as "a particularly challenging bottleneck." The new off-ramp at Figueroa and 23rd, two blocks north, would aim to improve traffic flow heading into Downtown and reduce vehicle queuing on existing ramps and roads.
The project is required to go through various levels of environmental review in compliance with state and federal law, including Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA). The Conservancy submitted comments during the Section 106 process in October 2015 and raised serious questions over Caltrans' current findings regarding historic resources.
A Draft Initial Study with Proposed Mitigated Negative Declaration (MND) was published in January 2016.
The West Adams Heritage Association (WAHA) and St. John's Cathedral hosted an informational forum on the proposed project in December 2014. In attendance were representatives from a number of stakeholder organizations, including the Conservancy, United Neighborhoods Neighborhood Council, California Preservation Foundation, University of Southern California, and National Trust for Historic Preservation. Subsequent meetings were held with Caltrans to discuss the compatibility of flyover with the historic neighborhood.
Along with our partners, the Conservancy is deeply concerned that the proposed I-110 Flyover Project would have profound impacts on University Park, including its rich collection of historic properties.
As a consulting party in the Section 106 process, the Conservancy submitted comments to Caltrans in October 2015. Although Caltrans acknowledges that the project would have clear direct and indirect impacts on historic resources, the current project scope is too narrow to adequately assess the full range of impacts.
We disagree with Caltrans' finding that the proposed project would be compatible with the existing visual character of the surrounding area, including historic properties. While we appreciate efforts to minimize the visual impact through design modifications, no amount of intervention or "dressing up" can effectively lighten a structure of this scale or render it compatible with the existing community and historic context. Instead, the flyover ramp would create visual and physical divisions within the neighborhood.
If built, the flyover would be immediately adjacent to St. John's Cathedral, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and designated Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument (HCM) #516. The new structure would create a significant visual barrier and generate new auditory impacts that could interfere with the cathedral's operations.
Overall, the proposed project would have a significant adverse effect on St. John's Cathedral's integrity of feeling, setting, and association, as well as the community at large. While there have been neighborhood changes over time, a large flyover structure would be the most dramatic and egregious change to occur.
We urge Caltrans to analyze a range of alternatives, including: 1) moving the undertaking to another site; 2) using an alternative project design; and 3) canceling the undertaking.