Commuter traffic moves slowly on the I-5 through Burbank in 2011.

Commuter traffic moves slowly on the I-5 through Burbank in 2011. (Raul Roa/Staff photographer)

State transportation officials say they are offering contractors millions of dollars in incentives to finish a massive construction project along the Golden State (5) Freeway ahead of schedule.

The incentives come after representatives for the California Department of Transportation heard concerns that the work on the I-5 corridor through Burbank would isolate neighborhoods around the Empire Center and limit access to Bob Hope Airport. They hope the incentives will shave up to a year off the project timeline.

Caltrans and the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority recently requested the closure of San Fernando Boulevard to facilitate railroad and utility relocation work. The agencies estimated the street could be closed for roughly three years, prompting fears among Burbank officials that the closure would isolate some residents.

The early closure of San Fernando is critical to accommodating a project schedule that preserves state funding for the project, transportation officials have said. Further delays would result in a funding lapse that would jeopardize the entire project.

The work in Burbank is part of the approximately $451-million project to add HOV lanes to the I-5 between the Ventura (134) Freeway and Route 14, and includes new and revamped interchanges at Empire Avenue and Burbank Boulevard.

Caltrans and MTA officials told the Burbank City Council this week that the closure of San Fernando to the opening of the Empire Avenue Interchange would now be 22 to 25 months, down from the roughly 39 months originally proposed.

An estimated $5 million to $7 million in incentives for the contractors will shorten the construction time by six to nine months for the Empire Interchange and four to six months for the Burbank Boulevard interchange if the early benchmarks are met, according to the agencies. About $2 million to $3 million in incentives will help with the Burbank interchange work.

Taken as a whole, it could mean an eight- to 12-month reduction to the overall duration of the project, said David Kriske, a transportation planner for the city.

Councilman Dave Golonski said he reluctantly supported the new plan.

“I’m not happy about the early closure of San Fernando,” Golonski said. “I realize it’s a necessity for this project. Originally we were told it wouldn’t be closed until the new interchange would be open, a much better scenario.”

While the new plan is an improvement over the first closure plan proposed last year, he added, the work was still going to have a big impact to that area.

Councilman David Gordon said he also reluctantly supported the project and wanted to ensure sufficient notice was sent to residents.

The city will be reimbursed for about $265,000 it will spend on local traffic signal changes intended to improve traffic flow as side streets capture motorists working around the closure.

“The $265,000 will be reimbursed, that’s something we didn’t have before,” Councilwoman Emily Gabel-Luddy said.