Caltrans is serious about community outreach. To support the department’s commitment to public information and to its partnerships, in mid-September District 7 assigned an advocate in a city hall office to assist local residents and businesses whose properties may be affected by a series of freeway improvements on Interstate 5 in south Los Angeles County.
The assignment of an advocate was in response to the I-5 Consortium Cities Joint Powers Authority’s (JPA) request to address residents’ questions about I-5 Corridor Improvement Projects from the Orange County line to I-605. The JPA consists of city elected officers and officials from five cities who work with Caltrans to execute the I-5 improvement projects while serving the needs of La Mirada, Cerritos, Santa Fe Springs, Norwalk and Downey citizens.
Assistant Project Manager Tarek Soufi was asked to fill the temporary advocate assignment for at least one year. He was up to the task. Soufi, an 18-year Caltrans veteran in the Office of Project Management South, willingly accepted, and the Advocacy Office has already demonstrated its benefits to all parties.
“Soufi’s current assignment is considered ‘out of the box’,” said Doug Hoover, senior, Right of Way Division’s Operations, Appraisal Management, Excess Land & Airspace unit. “It is unusual for a local agency to give Caltrans space in a city office to address elements of upcoming construction projects and the right of away acquisition process.”
Caltrans work in this corridor includes six segments of the Santa Ana Freeway (I-5) that transverse nearly 14 miles (seven miles in each direction) and abuts five cities. The project will widen the freeway from four lanes to six lanes by adding one High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV), or carpool lane, and one general purpose lane in each direction. It will also replace, renovate or reconfigure 18 structures, including ramps and frontage roads.
“I was asked to keep in touch with the community. I listen to their questions and issues then find a resolution,” said Soufi. “I’ll document all personal contacts for tracking and to follow up– usually with the expert advice of Right of Way or Design division staff. When information is conveyed back to the customer, we’ll track when and how resolutions were achieved and mark the case open or closed.”
“Setting up a Right of Way Advocate Office in the community has become a very important tool,” said Hoover. “In a short time, it has made noticeable changes in Caltrans’ relationships with the residents, elected officers and city officials. It has helped to demonstrate Caltrans’ effort to communicate effectively with residents and the cities.”
Soufi’s temporary office is shared with the Norwalk City Hall Information Office at 12700 Norwalk Blvd., in Norwalk. Norwalk Mayor Mike Mendez has noticed that local citizens are better informed of Caltrans’ plans in the area and he has thanked Caltrans for placing an advocate in the community, according to Hoover.
Most of the people who call or drop by the office are from Norwalk, Santa Fe Springs and La Mirada. Frequently asked questions range from map viewing, asking how construction projects may affect personal property, project limits and segmentation, soundwall locations, scheduled detours, ramp closures and mitigation plans for noise and dust.
Soufi’s work in District 7’s Project Management Division includes segments of the Interstate 405 carpool lane, traffic signalization on Pacific Coast Highway, a signage and striping project on I-10 in Downtown LA and US-101project in Oxnard. He has an extensive knowledge of the history pertaining to the I-5 corridor projects in southern Los Angeles County.
“Tarek has the overall background to answer diverse questions about all aspects of the six corridor projects,” said Edward Andraos, Office Chief, Project Management South. “His positive attitude and pleasant personality make him the right person for this assignment.”