It’s the off-ramp that John Strozdas takes to get to his home tucked away in the Cahuenga Pass in the Hollywood Hills after he drops his son off at school in the San Fernando Valley. Suddenly, he found out that the Barham Boulevard off-ramp southbound off the 101 Hollywood Freeway is slated to be closed—forever.
“I couldn’t believe it was true when I found out, it will make my time to get back home very difficult,” says Strozdas.
The off-ramp closure will result in the longest stretch of the Hollywood Freeway from the Los Angeles County line to downtown L.A. that has no exit—a full 2 ½ miles, from the Lankershim Boulevard exit to the Hollywood Bowl/Highland Avenue exit.
It will be closed because the Universal Evolution Plan includes a bridge a quarter of a mile away that will feed onto the freeway, and that on-ramp could be too close to the off-ramp. The off-ramp closure was not definitely decided on when approved by the community, and Universal officials said the decision would be left to Caltrans officials. Then, Caltrans said it would close the ramp, and called it the “Bennett Drive off-ramp” which is a small street across Cahuenga Boulevard.
“It was misleading to call it Bennett off-ramp,” says Strozdas. “No one knows that street, but they know Barham.”
The Barham Bridge connects Hollywood to Burbank, the Hollywood Hills and the large Oakwood Apartments complex. It is also a way for people to go up Mulholland Drive to Outpost Estates and other parts of the Hollywood Hills. Universal officials explain that their new bridge will take traffic off of Ventura and Cahuenga boulevards, and divert the traffic directly onto the freeway. That’s in time for the new Harry Potter attraction that is expected to bring in a lot more visitors to Universal.
But it’s more than residents who are concerned with the closure. Many of the hotels and businesses along the stretch didn’t know about the closing. And then, there’s the little school tucked in the pass.
Valley View Elementary School is one of the smallest public schools in Los Angeles but it still has 250 children K-6 and that means at least 500 car trips into the Cahuenga Pass. The PTA wasn’t aware of the closure and parents are shocked and angry about the proposed closing.
“Most of our faculty and many of our students come from that direction to get to our school, and this will drastically affect us,” says Susan Kim, the school’s principal. “We already have a tardiness problem. The increased traffic because of the off-ramp closing is going to make Cahuenga even more backed up, and it’s the only way to get to our school. That off-ramp really needs to remain opened.”
City Councilman Tom LaBonge told Strozdas that the Universal plan was approved and the off-ramp closure can’t be changed. Strozdas, and the coalition of homeowners who live in the area, say that a proper public hearing should have expressed that this ramp would be shut.
Corinne Verdery, planning officer for NBC/Universal says the decision to close to the off-ramp was made by Caltrans for safety reasons. There will be two new 500-room hotels and Universal will spend more than $100 million on transportation improvements, including widening nearby streets, adding new on and off-ramps to the freeway. The $1.6 billion project would be completed over a 20-year period and could create 30,000 jobs, according to Verdery.
Barry Johnson, who is the Transportation Committee Chair of the Studio City Neighborhood Council and board member of the Studio City Residents Association who focuses on Land Use and Transportation issues, says he was very concerned about the off-ramp closure when he heard about the possibility after a public hearing a few months ago. He said he has asked for follow-ups from the Caltrans and Department of Transportation officials, but has received no answers.
“I sent them some of the objections that people had about closing that off-ramp, but I have heard nothing yet,” Johnson says. “It’s a major inconvenience for people who live in that area.”
“What they are proposing is the closure of the Barham/Bennett off ramps. That would be a tragedy for anybody that lives in this neighborhood. They want to build a drop ramp southbound from their bridge onto the southbound Hollywood Freeway. Because of its closeness to the on and off ramps at Barham, otherwise known as Bennett, Caltrans is likely to close both of those ramps, which will be devastating not only to Cahuenga Pass, but for the people that come along Barham in the morning to go to work downtown and make a right turn onto Cahuenga and another right turn going southbound.” -Joan Luchs (Chairman of the, Federation of Hillside and Canyon Associations and president of the Cahuenga Pass Neighborhood Association)
Joan Luchs, chairman of the Federation of Hillside and Canyon Associations and president of the Cahuenga Pass Neighborhood Association, expressed concern about the closure. “That would be a tragedy for anybody that lives in this neighborhood. They want to build a drop ramp southbound from their bridge onto the southbound Hollywood Freeway. It will be devastating not only to Cahuenga Pass, but for the people that come along Barham in the morning to go to work downtown and make a right turn onto Cahuenga and another right turn going southbound.”
Charles J. Malki, a local resident and Ramsey-Shilling Realtor, says: “The detrimental impact of closing the Bennett Drive/ Barham Boulevard southbound off-ramp will cost the local residents additional commuting time, compromise the health and safety of our community, and will negatively impact property values.”
City and county officials and elected representatives have taken the position that the closing of the ramp is a “done deal.” And, the ramp can be closed as quickly as this year.
The locals trying to keep the ramp open are gathering a petition, and collecting information from others residents and businesses to be effected by the closure of this vital freeway exit. About 200 people have signed the petition.
“Isn’t it bad enough that after Harry Potter opens, we will have thousands more cares daily to deal with?” says Prentice Lennon, who lives in the area. “Not only should they leave the Barham ramp OPEN – but they should REOPEN the on and off ramps that they closed a few years ago just east of Barham between Highland and Barham! Take Take TAKE and never give back to the community!”
The issue is far from over, and the neighbors want the ramp to remain open.
“This is a crucial exit for me to get to my house. If this ramp is closed I will have a freeway adjacent home that is not freeway accessible. It will increase my daily commute time and lower my home value,” says Strozdas.
The petition and website the community group has set up is at: www.keepthebarhamramp.com