Widened El Camino Real to be east of existing road

After an environmental review, the city of San Diego has selected the eastern alignment for the new, widened El Camino Real. The alignment was determined to be the environmentally superior alternative, offering minimum impacts to land use and the best long-term improvement to traffic conditions, according to Jayna Straughn, an associate civil engineer with the city’s department of public works.

The Carmel Valley Community Planning Board unanimously approved the widening on Aug. 25 and it will now go to San Diego City Council for approval.

With the project, the road will be raised and moved to the east, widened to four lanes between San Dieguito Road and Via de la Valle. The current bridge, which has been deemed seismically deficient, will be replaced with a wider, 76-foot-wide bridge, more friendly for the cyclists that frequent the thoroughfare.

Signals will be installed at the intersections of San Dieguito Road, at the Del Mar Horsepark entrance and at Via de la Valle, where the road will now line up with the existing De la Valle Place. An undercrossing will connect the Coast to Crest Trail where it runs through the valley.

The road will be 60 feet from curb to curb, with a total width of 104 feet, which includes a 22-foot parkway, bike lanes and sidewalks.

The existing El Camino Real will stay as an access road to the existing businesses and the old bridge will be demolished. For the new bridge, the San Dieguito River Park Joint Powers Authority is seeking grant funding to build a cantilever on the west side to allow for safe horse crossings.

The road widening has been in the works for a long time, with the draft Environmental Impact Report (EIR) first presented back in 2006. With input from the public and the planning board, a task force was put together to look at alternatives such as a modified, narrowed eastern alternative and the additional alternative of roundabouts. The completed EIR reviewed the western, eastern and central alignments, as well as the roundabout option.

“The eastern alternative is the only one that improves level of service at Via de la Valle,” Straughn said.

The main significant impacts discussed in the EIR were land use, traffic and biological impacts, Straughn said. The widening will require a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and funding from Caltrans. Both the funding and approval are contingent on the fact that the selected alignment is the least environmentally damaging alternative.

The western alternative impacted the developments along the road the most, affecting businesses such as Mary’s Tack & Feed.

The eastern alignment had the largest impacts to the polo field and developments to the east. Straughn said the city is able to take as much land as needed from the city-owned polo field and the new polo field lease with Surf Cup Sports ensures that the tenant will support any alternative for the widening. The city will also need to work with the developers of Hacienda Del Mar, who are planning a senior living facility on the 23.88-acre slice of property adjacent to the polo fields.

Straughn said a two-lane roundabout would not achieve an improvement in traffic circulation — only one with a wider footprint of three lanes would improve the level of service. The city would not be able to take the land required to make a large enough roundabout without impacting Mary’s Tack & Feed or the surrounding wetlands habitat so the roundabouts were not approved.

The planning board had preferred roundabouts as an alternative but has also long lobbied for the road to be as narrow as possible through the sensitive river valley habitat — due to the larger footprint that would be required, the roundabouts would be the most damaging to the environment.

Via de la Valle will be widened to four lanes from San Adres to El Camino Real, a widening that the Carmel Valley planning board opposed in 2013 due to its impact on the Del Mar Horsepark and adjacent businesses. Via de la Valle will continue as a two-lane road into Rancho Santa Fe.

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