Thursday, April 10, 2008

Newport Beach SR 55 Workshop Report

I attended the Orange County Transportation Authority's final public outreach workshop on the subject of resolving the traffic snarl currently occurring on Newport Boulevard (SR 55) in Costa Mesa's "downtown", just beyond the terminus of the Costa Mesa Freeway at 19th Street.

Unlike the two similar workshops in Costa Mesa last week, this one was sparsely attended. A dozen folks who identified themselves as Newport Beach residents attended, plus some Costa Mesa residents. The total headcount at the meeting, including OCTA and consultant staff, was fewer than 30 people. It made me wonder if our good friends in Newport Beach would rather sit on the sidelines until this process is well down the road, then jump up and say, "NO WAY!"


One disappointing fact was that, with the exception of Newport Beach Councilman "Walkin'" Don Webb - who kicked it off then left - no Newport Beach elected or appointed official attended the meeting to hear what their constituents thought about the plans presented. Former controversial councilman Dick Nichol showed up after the formal presentation, but was actively engaged in the subject, asking many questions and making very relevant comments. And, even better, not once did he mention "Mexicans on the grass". (That's a kind of inside joke, folks.)

Many of the comments made by the Newporters were concerns about the traffic being "dumped" into Newport Beach. I had to chuckle, because they already get that traffic. Most of the more favorably viewed options presented would help folks heading for Newport Beach arrive there more quickly and with much less stress. No matter how carefully the moderators of the workshop tried to explain the situation, much apprehension still existed at the end of the meeting.


Our good neighbors - most of whom lived in the Newport Heights area - were concerned about cut-through traffic in their neighborhoods. If that sounds familiar, it should, because many of my Eastside Costa Mesa neighbors expressed the same concerns at the two previous workshops. The difference between them is the fact the the Eastside of Costa Mesa is feeling the impact of cut-through traffic NOW due to the long delays on Newport Blvd.


Much was made about the need to disperse the traffic at the end of the freeway. Nichol was concerned about the freeway ending at one single traffic light at Industrial Way - as it does now at 19th Street. Nichol - who had not yet viewed the options on the display boards - suggested off ramps at 16th Street and 17th Street to help with the dispersion of traffic. That rankled residents, who "heard" that to mean more traffic on their residential streets.

Along with valid concerns and suggestions there were, predictably, some pretty off-the-wall suggestions. One woman suggested discarding all the proposed solutions and concentrating on public transportation alternatives. She apparently just arrived from Mars, or would have known that southern Californians don't leave their cars to go anywhere. Another speaker took my tongue-in-cheek suggestion about installing toll booths and turned it into a suggestion!

Despite the paucity of attendees, the OCTA and consultant staff dutifully took copious notes of the concerns and suggestions. Now this process will continue with the blending of existing proposals with suggestions made by attendees of the workshops and the distillation of the options to 3 or 4 possible choices. Those will then be presented to the OCTA Board and elected officials. More community outreach will be conducted following that effort. The target for the end of this phase of the project is August of this year.

At that time cost estimates will be compiled and possible sources of funding will be investigated. No funding is available for any of the long-range options at this time. When I asked how long it would take to get something built, the moderator, using assumptions that one of the more costly options would be chosen and it would involve property acquisition, speculated that it would take 10-15 years. Yikes!

I fear, based on some of the comments made this evening, that this project is going to be one more contentious issue that the cities of Costa Mesa and Newport Beach will butt head on. The problem that generated this study is clearly a Costa Mesa issue. At the two workshops conducted in Costa Mesa many residents expressed displeasure that Newport Beach even gets a vote. I hope the elected leaders and staff will be able to mediate an amicable approach to this subject because there are many more issues that require close cooperation that are at least as important as this one. If we allow this to deteriorate into a schoolyard spat there is much to lose on both sides of our common border.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

An interesting comment made by the presenter after the formal presentation: the mostly Newport eastsiders placed only red dots on the tunnel concept, whereas the night before -- at an identical presentation to Speak Out Newport (a different crowd, obviously, but I don't know its composition) -- the attendees placed only green dots on the tunnel concept.

This hints to me that local politics will play a very large role in what, if anything, happens.

4/11/2008 04:52:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This may sound petulant, but Newport should have no seat at this table due to the fact that they essentially have a "no freeway" provision in their city charter. They have literally forced the freeway on us, so ONLY we should decide the future of that freeway.

4/12/2008 08:59:00 PM  
Blogger The Pot Stirrer said...

Tom, that's an interesting observation. It seems that nothing comes easily to our good neighbors in Newport. The great "city hall" issue is a perfect example.

Rob, I understand your feelings but don't agree. This traffic that is strangling our downtown is a "regional" problem. I think it's important that all cities affected by it be given a chance to express their views. However, when push comes to shove, nothing can happen unless the City of Costa Mesa agrees to it. That's the reason we're in this pickle now - our elected officials chose to halt the completion of the freeway two decades ago. I understand the pressure they were under - nearly 100 homes and businesses would have been destroyed. But, here we are, with the second busiest intersection in the county and only minimal relief in the forms of the approved additional northbound lane and the partial lane southbound. As I headed north on the 55 Freeway on Friday around noon the southbound traffic was stopped dead in it's tracks clear back more than 1.5 miles! This is unacceptable and frustration when you realize that nothing of significance will happen for at least a decade.

Former Newport Beach councilman Dick Nichol may have had it right last Thursday when he said that cities wither when the traffic in and out is hampered. Put on your thinking cap and see what you can come up with...

4/12/2008 10:20:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


You're right, but I still get peeved when NB residents complain about the traffic - they have no clue what we go through daily. I lived on the peninsula, and it is bad, but we deal with HB's traffic also.

Tom's proposal in the Pilot is the best plan. Bore a tunnel and cover north of 19th (how far, though? To Bay? 21st?)

A modest toll to use the tunnel would help pay for construction.

4/14/2008 10:50:00 AM  

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