Major upgrade work on Highway 101 through Solana Beach to be finished by fair opening

By Joe Tash

By the time the San Diego County Fair opens on Saturday, June 8, major street and sidewalk work on a $7 million upgrade of Highway 101 through Solana Beach will be completed, four months ahead of schedule.

The project made it tough on businesses along the corridor, as construction work closed traffic lanes and temporarily eliminated parking spaces. But merchants who made it through the disruptions since construction began last July are optimistic that the project will be worth it in the long run.

“From everything I see it looks like they put thought into it and it’s going to be nice,” said Jeff Moore, owner of Solana Succulents, a specialty nursery at 355 N. Highway 101.

Sue Kelly, who owns both Fairbanks Interiors, an interior decorating business, and a dress boutique on Highway 101, said her retail shop would not have made it through the construction if not for the support of the interior design studio, which doesn’t rely as much on foot or vehicle traffic.

Now that the work is nearly complete, she said, she’s hearing more positive comments from fellow merchants and customers.

“I think they see the value in it, but it was a painful process,” she said.

The project focused on a mile-long stretch of Highway 101 between Cliff and Dahlia streets. Work included upgrades of storm drains, widening and installation of sidewalks on the west side of the street, narrowing of traffic lanes to slow vehicles, and new landscaping, street furniture such as benches and bike racks, lighting, and 11 art-themed public gathering spots.

Parallel parking was replaced with angled parking, adding about 40 additional spaces along the project’s length. The speed limit was also lowered to 35 mph from 45 mph, and it could be lowered further if necessary, said City Manager David Ott.

Comments from the public and merchants has been generally positive in recent months, as opposed to frustration expressed during the most intense construction in the final months of 2012, Ott said.

“They are really seeing it now, based on their comments, that businesses will reap the rewards of people wanting to get out and walk and see the beautiful spaces and visit their business,” Ott said.

Other measures to reduce traffic speeds include signage for the new speed limit, mid-block pedestrian crossings with flashing lights, and a shared southbound lane, delineated with pavement markings, for bicycles and vehicles, Ott said.

A grand opening and ribbon cutting is being planned for Sept. 22 to coincide with the annual Arts Alive event, officials said. Most of the work, including decorative touches, is expected to be completed by then.

During construction, the city has tried to help merchants by waiving business license fees and relaxing signage rules, allowing merchants to put up extra signage to increase their visibility, Ott said.

“We did everything possible to try to help them out during these times, and have the least impact possible. But it was definitely an inconvenience to many business owners,” Ott said.

Moore, owner of Solana Succulents, said his landlord gave him a break on the rent.

Among the benefits of the project, said Moore, is that additional parking spaces will be available in front of his business. A downside, he said, is the type of trees selected for the roadway median, which he said may block views of businesses on the west side of Coast Highway from the northbound traffic lanes.

However, Ott said the trees were selected so their foliage would grow upward, and not obstruct the views of motorists.

Another concern, according to Kelly, of Fairbanks Interiors, is skateboarders who are drawn by the newly widened sidewalks. She said speeding skaters pose a hazard to people stepping out of shops onto the sidewalk, and they are also damaging planter boxes by jumping on or over them.

“They just think this is a new skateboard park,” she said.

Skateboarders are allowed to use the sidewalk, said Solana Beach senior management analyst Dan King, but “protective devices” will be placed on the new street furniture to protect it from damage.