Laguna Beach still weighs on purchase of Laguna Canyon Road


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An informal roadside sanctuary on El Toro Road near Laguna Canyon Road marks the spot where a collision in 2015 claimed the lives of the two motorists. Photo file

By Breeana Greenberg, Independent Special

Laguna Beach City Council voted on Tuesday to revise and resubmit a study to improve Laguna Canyon Road, potentially with a reversible transit lane to ease traffic jams.

“We have spent so much time and effort as a community looking at Laguna Canyon Road, I think we all get continued Nixles about the disasters that are happening there,” said Mayor Bob Whalen. “Doing nothing is not an option in my opinion, we need to move forward looking at some of these alternatives.”

The study, first submitted to Caltrans in November 2019, focused on underground overhead utilities and the creation of cycle and pedestrian lanes. In April 2019, city council asked staff to further study transit improvements, such as reversible transit lanes and longer fusion lanes.

To improve traffic flow, council members asked staff to consider converting the center left-turn lane to a reversible transit lane. The reversible transit lane would alternate the direction of traffic depending on the traffic. Drivers would only be able to enter or exit the lane from the lampposts. Mark McAvoy, Director of Public Works, also discussed using the lane as a HOV or toll lane.

“I think the idea of ​​the reversible route is great,” said resident Judie Mancuso. “I think it would be just amazing if the locals with our labels could go down this route and possibly share with the VMO and that way locals don’t have to be so inconvenienced by the millions and millions of tourists who pass. “

“We will have a much better chance of securing federal funding through OCTA if we had a reversible HOV or transit lane as part of our project,” said City Manager Shohreh Dupuis. “And also the director of Caltrans indicated that our improvements for bicycles and pedestrians are a key part of our project, so we would have access to state funding…”

The cost of implementing reservable transit lanes remains to be determined, as transit improvements need to be further explored. In their vote, the members of the council approved an amendment to the contract with HDR Engineering, Inc. up to $ 200,000 to revise the study report as well as an amendment to the contract with Caltrans for a maximum of $ 25,000. to revise the revised study.

McAvoy presented the plan to eventually widen the shoulders of Laguna Canyon Road and add a sidewalk and a bike path. The report proposed two options for a cycle path. If city council decides to create a reversible transit lane in the central lane, staff will seek to build a class two or “on-road” cycle lane. If city council decides not to use the reversible transit lane, staff will seek to build a two-way bike path separated by a curb from the main road on the south side of Laguna Canyon Road.

Resident Ann Christoph opposed the proposed road widening.

“[Village Laguna] opposed a wider road due to the aesthetic impacts of a stretch of pavement and this option does it on its own, ”said Christoph. “And it offers an inaccessible cycle path on the community side of the street. So it would be like a cycle highway for people who come from far away, probably. “

Council member George Weiss agreed that the bike path would end up serving largely cyclists coming from out of town.

“I don’t see it as a neighborhood, serving bike paths for residents, so that’s a problem for me and keeping it small would be… a solution, I guess,” Weiss said.

“I think one of the visions we had back on the task force, for both pedestrian and cycle lanes, was to connect downtown,” Whalen said. “We could connect our community to the open space. You can’t get out safely now, whether on foot or by bike, but with these upgrades you can. “

The cost of constructing pedestrian and bicycle lanes is estimated at $ 43.5 million. Construction would also require aerial utilities to be buried.

Burying utilities reduces fire risks, improves road safety and preserves the Laguna Canyon Road evacuation route, and increases utility reliability, the staff report said. The cost of the underground canyon lines is estimated to be around $ 71 million.

“I think realistically this will only happen with state and federal money for the most part,” Whalen said. “I mean, we can contribute locally, but I think my personal point of view is that we need to invest the extra $ 100,000 here.”

City Council voted to allocate $ 100,000 from the Forest Fire Mitigation and Fire Safety Fund for the utility landfill project. Council also directed staff to obtain a cost proposal from Southern California Edison for the burial of transmission lines along Laguna Canyon Road, from Canyon Acres to El Toro Road.

Currently, Laguna Canyon Road is owned by Caltrans. The California legislature passed Assembly Bill 2172, in September 2020, allowing Laguna Beach to acquire Laguna Canyon Road from Caltrans. Prior to the passage of the Erection Bill, the city contracted with HDR Engineering, Inc. to review a cost-benefit analysis of the acquisition of Laguna Canyon Road.

“The acquisition of Laguna Canyon Road itself, in its current state, does not really provide a substantial benefit; However, if we were to implement these various improvement projects in a detailed manner, it would translate into benefits that outweigh the costs, ”said McAvoy.

Maintaining Laguna Canyon Road would cost the City approximately $ 193,000 per year and an additional $ 193,000 for emergency road closures. Accident claims and settlements could also cost the city up to $ 11 million a year.

As part of its vote, city council asked staff to begin negotiations with Caltrans for the acquisition of Laguna Canyon Road if the city is able to identify funding for metro improvements for bikes, pedestrians, public transport and utilities.

“The city having control of Laguna Canyon Road could be a very good thing and I know a tremendous amount of work has already been put into this,” said Penelope Miline, president of the Canyon Alliance of Neighborhoods Defense Organization.

“Although I have strongly advocated for the underground in the power lines in the canyon, I am concerned about the proposal to bury them in the Wilderness Park,” Milne said.

Milne stressed that a potential downside to burying power lines is the disruption of wildlife habitat and recommended that city council ask staff to work with Southern California Edison to consider a variety of alternatives, not just utilities. underground in the Wilderness Park.

Milne also noted that the reversible transit route can make it more difficult for residents to get in and out of their neighborhoods.

“I think you all know how much the city hates the signal to LCAD, so the idea that we would solve people’s frustration by adding three or four more lights would be extremely unpopular,” Milne said.

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