Utility pole replacement in San Dieguito Lagoon part of new habitat restoration project

The new trail as part of the restoration will connect with the Dust Devil Nature Trail on El Camino Real.
(Karen Billing)

San Diego Gas & Electric will begin work this year on replacing and relocating power lines in the San Dieguito Lagoon, making room for a habitat restoration project that will include a new public trail connection.

The new one-mile recreational trail would mostly run alongside El Camino Real, linking to the Dust Devil Nature Trail along the southern edge and extending north to near the El Camino Real bridge, providing a future link to the Coast to Crest Trail that stretches from Del Mar through the San Dieguito River Park to Julian.

Caltrans and SANDAG are completing the project as a mitigation condition of the Interstate-5 widening.

It will pay for the relocation of seven existing poles, (two steel and five wood)—moving them out of the lagoon restoration project area and into an existing SDG&E utility corridor to the east with other electric transmission/distribution and natural gas pipeline facilities. A total of 11 new pole structures will be installed as part of the relocation project.

SDG&E plans to begin construction late this year with an estimated four to five month construction process.

According to Jessica Gonzales, public information officer for SANDAG, they anticipate the lagoon restoration project will begin later this year, in partnership with the San Dieguito River Park Joint Powers Authority.

“The San Dieguito Lagoon Restoration Project will convert former agricultural fields to saltwater wetlands and enhance and maintain the natural flood control channel,” Gonzales said. “The project will expand and enhance the efforts of Southern California Edison, which began restoring surrounding wetlands in 2011.”

As the lead agency, SANDAG will be planting native species and establishing the wetland habitat in a portion of the lagoon system referred to as W-19.

“Benefits to the community include the establishment of a mix of coastal wetlands that includes approximately 64 acres of tidal salt marsh, 15 acres of brackish wetlands and enhancement of an additional five acres of riparian habitat to benefit local wildlife,” Gonzales said.

A benefit for locals will include the creation of the new trail, which will begin at the northern loop of the Dust Devil Nature Trail off El Camino Real.

The trail will be designated for hikers, runners and pedestrians only (no bicycles or equestrian use) with decomposed granite and rustic split-rail fencing to enhance public safety and keep users out of areas of sensitive vegetation.

The trail would eventually connect to pedestrian lanes along the new El Camino Real Bridge across the river. Prior to completion of the bridge, the trail would only be accessible from the south.

The new bridge and the widening and realignment of El Camino Real has been in the works for over 15 years. With the $38 million project, the road will be raised and moved to the east, widened from two to four lanes between San Dieguito Road and Via De La Valle. The current narrow bridge, which has been deemed seismically deficient, will be replaced with a wider bridge that is much more pedestrian and cyclist-friendly.

This year, Congressman Mike Levin included $2.5 million in funding for the El Camino Real road improvements in the Invest in America Act. The bill passed the house in July and has moved on to the senate.

Design work on the road and bridge began in 2019 and is expected to be completed in 2023. Once it breaks ground, it is expected to be a three-year long construction process.