Del Mar council says road project needs work

A $1.5 million project to create a multi-use path along Camino Del Mar at the south end of Del Mar, as well as eliminate one northbound lane on the busy roadway as a traffic-calming measure, requires more work before it can move forward, the Del Mar City Council decided at its meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 3.

The council, after about an hour of discussion, voted 5-0 to send the project back to staff for further work, and also invite neighbors to provide more comment when the issue comes back before the City Council for consideration.

The project covers an area from 4th Street south to Carmel Valley, along Camino Del Mar. Among its major elements, according to a presentation by public works director Eric Minicilli, are creation of a new multi-use path on the west side of Camino Del Mar; reducing northbound vehicle traffic on Camino Del Mar to one lane; bike lane additions, widening and buffers; and intersection improvements.

But Councilman Dave Druker questioned whether one element of the project - elimination of a left-turn pocket from northbound Camino Del Mar to westbound 4th Street - might actually lead to more cut-through traffic in the adjacent neighborhood when Camino Del Mar is congested during rush hour.

The council, on a motion by Councilman Dwight Worden, voted to study the left-turn issue more closely and also invite neighbors to comment. City staff will also look at potential safety impacts further south, such as the configuration of the roadway median, where people cross Camino Del Mar to reach an informal or “unauthorized” path to the Torrey Pines beach.

Worden’s motion stated that the rest of the project looks good, and directed staff to bring it back for council consideration as soon as possible.

Minicilli said the project should make it safer for people to cross Camino Del Mar because the number of lanes will be reduced from the current three to two, and slower speeds are expected due to the narrower roadway.

Among the project’s goals, as outlined by Minicilli, include connectivity of walking paths from the south to north parts of the city; traffic calming; intersection improvements; storm water and drainage improvements; and upgrades to landscaping and aesthetics.

One element of the project would be two dedicated left-turn lanes for cars heading south on Camino Del Mar to eastbound Del Mar Heights Road.

According to a staff report, the project was approved unanimously by the city’s Traffic and Parking Advisory Committee at its December meeting.

One area of contention among council members was the addition of the multi-use path along the west side of Camino Del Mar.

Druker questioned whether many people would use the path, because pedestrians now walk on Stratford Court, which runs parallel to Camino Del Mar to the west, and has much less vehicular traffic.

“I don’t see anybody using this,” Druker said, calling the proposal a “total waste of money.”

But Councilwoman Ellie Haviland predicted that once the path is built, it will become popular with pedestrians, because it will offer a safe, pleasant alternative, with traffic moving more slowly on the adjacent Camino Del Mar.

“I think there’s a lot here to like,” she said of the project.

The schedule for the project, as described in Minicilli’s report, called for the work to go out to bid in February, with the council awarding a construction contract in March. Work would then have begun in April, with completion by October, before the Breeders’ Cup horse racing championship set for the Del Mar Fairgrounds on Nov. 3-4. Some events related to the Breeders’ Cup may be held at Powerhouse Park in Del Mar.

It was not clear Tuesday whether - or by how much - the additional study and design work will push back the project.