NBCUniversal’s $1.6 billion expansion plan, which promises to bring tens of thousands of new jobs and more tourism to Southern California, has hit a snag: Local residents have filed a lawsuit against the studio, Caltrans and the City and County of Los Angeles, claiming that plans to close a freeway offramp to allow easier access to Universal Studios Hollywood will snarl traffic in surrounding areas and delay emergency response times.
As part of the expansion plan, dubbed NBCUniversal Evolution, Caltrans has approved the permanent closure of the southbound Barham Boulevard exit of the 101 Freeway in order to build a new onramp to the theme park, forcing drivers to exit the freeway a mile earlier or two miles later. The lawsuit, filed by a group calling itself Keep the Barham Ramp Association, seeks to halt the closure until further environmental impact studies can be done.
“The new southbound 101 onramp was fully vetted in the public through a seven-year environmental review process,” NBCUniversal said in response to the suit. “We are confident that the courts will stand by the city, county and Caltrans approvals.” Caltrans declined to comment on the suit, but in an earlier report said that the project “will have a less than significant impact on public services,” including fire and police response times.
But the plaintiff group counters on its website that “closing this exit will drastically affect access to hundreds of homes, businesses, and schools. It will also increase traffic time for thousands of Angelenos trying to enter that area of the city, further negatively impacting the quality of life for those who live and visit there.”
Approved in April 2013 by the LA County Board of Supervisors, NBCUniversal Evolution is expected to create more than 30,000 jobs and generate $2 billion in economic activity, according to the company. NBCU said it will make $100 million in transit improvements, including improvements to more than 120 local intersections. The company said its expansion also would allow for increased production activity at the studio by adding production, postproduction and office space.
In November, outgoing LA County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky explained the County and the City’s support for the offramp closure. “One of the principal mitigation measures for the Universal Studios Evolution Plan was the creation of a new onramp offering direct access for traffic from the theme park and CityWalk directly onto the southbound 101 Freeway,” he wrote in a letter to constituents. “This mitigation measure will keep thousands of cars off the local streets, particularly Cahuenga Boulevard. … As to the Barham offramp, Caltrans made the decision to close it because it is too close to the proposed new onramp. If both were in place, they would create a profoundly unsafe situation, since commuters seeking to exit the freeway at the offramp would be decelerating into the very lane where cars entering the freeway from the new onramp would be accelerating. …. This new onramp, along with the potential closure of the Barham offramp, was part of a comprehensive environmental a public review process.”