City engineers report on One Paseo’s impact on traffic in Carmel Valley draws mixed response

By Karen Billing

What will be the impact of One Paseo on traffic in the community? With mitigation city engineers say it will be minimal. Some believe that. Others do not.

City traffic engineers Farah Mahzari and Labib Qusem were called upon March 28 to answer the Carmel Valley Community Planning Board’s list of 25 detailed questions regarding their One Paseo traffic study. The board voiced concerns that the traffic study was “inadequate” in assuming there were few significant unmitigatable impacts despite an extra 24,000 average daily trips (ADT) on Del Mar Heights Road that currently sees an ADT of 40,000 cars. The engineers said that Kilroy Realty’s $6 million in roadway tweaks — such as road “lengthening,” new turn lanes, synchronized traffic lights and new traffic signals — will keep traffic conditions on the roadways status quo.

“We believe that the traffic study conforms to the traffic study manual, they’re mitigating all of their impacts, they’re not re-classifying any roadways and there’s no community plan amendment required (for the roads),” Mahzari said. “We, the city, cannot design the project or give them ideas, obviously you as a board can make recommendations. We can only look at the project proposed and make sure they meet all the guidelines and mitigate all their impacts and we think that they’ve done that.”

Mahzari said that without the project, driving eastbound on Del Mar Heights from Carmel Canyon Road takes 5.8 minutes to get to I-5, and it takes 6.3 minutes to make the trip westbound.

With the project, she said, overall only one-and-a-half minutes is being added to an eastbound commute and 1.2 minutes added to the westbound trip because most of the impacts will be mitigated. After One Paseo is built, with all the mitigations complete, she said it will take 7.3 minutes to go eastbound on Del Mar Heights from Carmel Canyon to I-5 and westbound it will take 7.5 minutes.

Some planning board members and audience members were unconvinced, one resident saying it was “impossible to believe” that with the number of trips One Paseo would generate, traffic would only be made worse by the short amount of time cited by the city traffic engineers.

Qusem said the reason why it will work is because of the mixed use program; One Paseo’s different uses will draw people in and out at different times of the day, not all out on the road at the same time. He said it would be more or less similar to what people experience today because mitigations will get it back to an acceptable level of service.

Planning Board Chair Frisco White said there is still much to review about One Paseo, as the draft environmental report looks to become final in the next few months.

“As we continue to review this project, we have to consider what is the benefit of this project to the community. That is the question we will dwell upon and research,” White said. “There’s a lot to look at beyond traffic, it’s a lifestyle issue as well.”

The meeting took about three hours and the Ocean Air MUR was filled to capacity. The hundreds in attendance became very familiar with the term “level of service” or in engineer speak,“LOS.”

LOS “D” is what the engineers aim for as an acceptable level, 35 to 55 seconds spent at an intersection.

A LOS E is considered unacceptable, with a delay of 55 to 88 seconds. Beyond 88 seconds in delay, an intersection becomes an F and there’s no limit to that failure — it’s anything beyond 88 seconds.

Del Mar Heights Road and the northbound I-5 ramp is where the traffic will get the stickiest, according to Qusem.

“That’s the biggest issue we have to work on,” said Qusem. “With that lot vacant, it’s already failing…we’re starting with a base that’s already at capacity with the vacant lot.”

In the near-term and at full build-out, the I-5-Del Mar Heights interchange area will have an LOS E. However, even if only the 550,000-square-foot office building is built on the One Paseo site, that intersection will still fail at a LOS E at the 2030 full build-out of Carmel Valley.

With the projection of the 2030 full build-out, the traffic engineers said they assume everything that has been entitled to be built in Carmel Valley has been built, including 150,000 additional square feet at Del Mar Highlands Town Center and a connection between I-5 and SR-56 and a widened I-5.

“The City staff confirmed what I have saying about Carmel Valley traffic — without One Paseo you get the Del Mar Highlands Town Center expansion (they announced it), plus the 550,000 square feet of office development with no traffic improvements,” Robert Little, vice president of development for Kilroy Realty said after the meeting via email. “With One Paseo you get mitigation (traffic solutions) that take into account both developments, thus it is smart development, resulting in a worst-case delay counted in seconds.”

Some project opponents insist that the Highlands’ 150,000 square feet was, in fact, not included in the study and board members also questioned whether 5/56 connections will be made by 2030—wondering if the roads will actually fare far worse until those improvements are made.

“Everything else we can mitigate to a level D or better,” Qusem said. “There will be no delays or similar to what you experience today. This project gives the ability to mitigate impacts where the office (the 550,000 square feet the land is entitled for) does not.”

The study says that one intersection will actually improve significantly—by installing a traffic signal at Carmel Creek Road and Del Mar Trails it gets that intersection up to a B grade.

The project’s proposed mitigation of signal synchronization will be a first for San Diego. The closest area that uses synchronization is the city of San Marcos on San Marcos Boulevard, and Mahzari said they report a 30 percent better progression of traffic. Conservatively, One Paseo is projecting a 10-to-15-percent improvement with the synchronization system, which monitors traffic by satellite, adding green time to roads that are experiencing back-ups.

Board member Anne Harvey pointed out that even if a car hit every green light on Del Mar Heights Road, the ramp meters on the I-5 are what cause back-ups and those are controlled by Caltrans and the freeway level of service.

Qusem said that the planned improvements for El Camino Real and Via de la Valle (replacing the bridge past San Dieguito Road and widening El Camino Real and Via de la Valle to four lane roads) would also help get cars off of Del Mar Heights Road in the future.

“In the future” is a stumbling block for the board, White said, because it isn’t certain when those city-driven improvements will be made.

“It’s hard to believe that widening Via de la Valle is going to shift traffic off Del Mar Heights,” board member Nancy Novak said.

Novak, who represents the neighborhood off High Bluff, had a lot of concerns about the project increasing cut-through traffic through their streets, especially near Solana Highlands School where they just worked to curb traffic with a new stop sign.

Extra turn lanes onto High Bluff are part of the traffic improvements and Novak said they just seem to be “an invitation” for cut-through traffic.

Mahzari and Qusem said that is not the case.

“We want the intersections to work. Giving extra capacity isn’t going to make cars go on High Bluff. Instead of people turning one by one they will be able to turn two at a time,” Qusem said,

“It will be faster to stay on Del Mar Highlands and El Camino Real than shortcut through residential streets,” Mahzari said. “Unless the signals aren’t working, there’s no reason to cut through residential streets.”

Mahzari said that if it does cause an impact, they could take steps to mitigate the issue.

White said that if they are waiting until phase three of the project to be built to solve a problem like cut-through traffic, it might be too late.

“The residents to the north of the project will be the most impacted so we may need this question to be more thoroughly addressed,” White said.

Board members pointed out that it may take some time for all these mitigations to be complete and the roads could reach failure level in the meantime.

Qusem said that their concerns are the reasons that projects have to be phased and that the developer won’t be able to proceed to the next building phase until the impacts are mitigated.

“That’s the point of the phasing plan, to control the project,” Qusem said.

The board also questioned whether the existing street systems will be overburdened and cause the circulation system to not function as intended by the 1975 Community Plan.

Mahzari said that Kilroy is not proposing to reclassify the roads so the project is staying within the community plan, mitigating for everything added to the system and it won’t change the character or function of the roadways.

Harvey argued that their mitigations will change the roadways, as the community plan intended for Carmel Valley’s roads to have well-landscaped medians and to be “natural and serene to drive.”

“These mitigations will change the character of the streets entirely. When you say it won’t change the function, it wasn’t intended to function like Mira Mesa Boulevard,” Harvey said.

Mahzari pointed out that the streets do have a landscaping plan and she disagreed that the mitigations will drastically change the character of the community.