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LA’s Freeways Undergoing Massive Makeover to Clear Homeless Encampments and Tons of Trash

Miles of the 101 Freeway — which just last year were covered with tons of uncollected trash and hundreds of homeless tents — are now being dramatically cleaned up and neatly landscaped, a year after an NBC4 I-Team investigation about the sorry state of LA’s highways.

Caltrans tells the I-Team that work crews have dismantled 38 homeless encampments alongside the 101, after sending in outreach workers to find alternate housing for people living next to the freeway.

“Not in the last twenty years” has there been a freeway transformation like this current one, said Godson Okereke of Caltrans District 7, who is overseeing the work.

In February 2021, the I-Team reported how tons of uncollected garbage was piling up for years on specific sections of the 101, like the Sunset Boulevard off-ramp.

At the time, Caltrans blamed the mess on the pandemic, but the I-Team discovered some areas hadn’t had a clean up since 2018 — two years before the pandemic began.

After questioning by the I-Team, Caltrans promised a major cleanup of LA’s highways, and it’s kept the promise.

First to get a makeover was the 101 Highland Avenue off-ramp near the Hollywood Bowl, featured in an I-Team report. 

“For a year now, since you first did a report, the off-ramp has been lovely,” said Cam Grossman, who raised his kids across the street from the Highland off-ramp, before there was a trash-filled encampment documented by the I-Team.

Now in recent months, Caltrans has begun clearing tents and planting drought resistant succulents on on-ramps and off-ramps from downtown to the San Fernando Valley, like the Vermont Avenue and Silverlake Boulevard on-ramps.

More notably, Caltrans is “rockscaping” numerous areas of the 101, which means laying down pointy rocks which discourage unhoused residents from pitching tents along the freeway.

“People won’t want to live on top of rocks,” says Caltrans’ Godson Okereke.

He added that there are big safety concerns when the homeless live alongside freeways. The agency says so far this year, about 20 people — most likely homeless — have been killed on the 101 and 110 freeways.

“The freeway is not a place for anybody to live,” Okereke told the I-Team.

Caltrans has also increased its trash collection along the 101 freeway from downtown to the Valley, a stretch used by some 300,000 cars a day.

The agency has hired 50 workers, some of them formerly homeless, to regularly remove trash along that stretch, so it doesn’t pile up like it did in recent years.

Over the next three years, Caltrans is promising a massive makeover of miles of the freeways throughout LA and Ventura counties.

It says it will spend $179 million dollars to landscape, rockscape and clean up highways in the two counties.

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