CalTrans’ Laguna Canyon Road Project Flummoxes Laguna Canyon Foundation

Laguna Canyon Road as seen from the sky. Photograph by D Ramsey Logan

As Liam Blume just reported in the Weekly, Orange County’s most controversial road remains the proposed extension of the 241 toll road into San Clemente–but gaining fast is the proposed $39 million expansion and extension of the 133, a.k.a. Laguna Canyon Road.

CalTrans is proposing widening the 133 at El Toro Road, extending the second northbound (outbound) lane by 1,200 feet more and the second southbound (inbound) lane by an additional 900 feet. The project is currently in the environmental review phase; click here to read the documents that have been filed.

Besides extending lanes for motorized vehicles, the project would also add: eight-foot wide shoulders and bike lanes on both sides of the 133; an underground utility line on the northbound side between El Toro Road and the 73 freeway; and an articulated concrete block channel in the riparian area on the southbound side just before El Toro Road.

This has raised alarm among the conservation-minded Laguna Canyon Foundation, which has problems with the costs associated not only the project’s pricetag but the visual and environmental tolls. Taken together, the impacts are “severe and irresponsible,” according to the nonprofit’s website.

“While Laguna Canyon Foundation supports making our roads safer for drivers and bicyclists, we do not believe that the proposed project actually accomplishes this,” states a note on the site. “We are very concerned about the environmental impacts of the project.”

Working with other environmentalists, the foundation has developed these comments about the CalTrans proposal:

  • The second northbound (outbound) lane from El Toro Rd. could reasonably be extended 1200 feet without significant environmental impact.
  • The addition of an eight-foot-wide bike lane and shoulder alongside that northbound (outbound) lane from El Toro Rd. can be accommodated with minimal environmental impact with careful design. However, the current plan calls for undergrounding utilities outside this additional eight-foot shoulder and travel lane. The additional land needed for undergrounding (which requires a hard surface), dramatically expands this proposal’s environmental impact. It will require a significant additional take of open space. We support this portion of the project only if the utilities are undergrounded within the proposed eight-foot shoulder.
  • The channelization of the riparian area on the inbound side will have serious visual impacts and riparian habitat impacts. While we understand the desire to make this channel easier to maintain and thus reduce flooding, offsite mitigation or the purchase of mitigation credits is not acceptable in this area. This fragile riparian habitat must be mitigated both visually and habitat wise, at least in part, on-site.
  • The 900-foot extension of the southbound (inbound) lane on the 133 past El Toro Rd. is the area of most concern. The road widening would dip into parkland where Stagecoach South Trail runs along the 133. The existing hillside would be engineered into a 1 ½:1 slope, extending 40 feet into the park. In addition, their proposed lane extension would move the merge location down past the Willow park entrance parking lot. We do not believe this proposal could be completed without dramatic impacts on the park and the parking lot. Specifically:
         – Existing rock structures and native habitat would be destroyed.
         – Up to 14 mature oak trees would be removed, to be mitigated within OC Parks but not on site.
         – The slope steepness would require erosion control and stabilization measures that would make effective restoration of the slope difficult. Think about the southbound side of Laguna Canyon Road across from the Sawdust festival.
         – Traffic in and out of the Willow parking lot would now require crossing two lanes of incoming traffic, making an already difficult turn even more treacherous. CalTrans has not studied the traffic patterns of this parking lot. This project is based on incomplete data that does not take into consideration the thousands of cars that use this parking lot each year.
         – All aspects of this project include CalTrans style guard rails, turning Laguna Canyon Road past El Toro into the same freeway style roads we see all over Orange County.

On June 27, CalTrans collected public comments during an informational meeting in the Laguna Beach High School library.

This Thursday evening, July 5, Laguna Canyon Foundation, filmmaker Greg and Barbara MacGillivray and fellow preservationists Laguna Beach CANDO give a presentation on the overall project and its impacts on the canyon and community. That will be from 5-7 p.m. in Susi Q Senior Center, 380 3rd St., Laguna Beach.

Public comments are due on Tuesday, July 10.

Matt Coker has been engaging, enraging and entertaining readers of newspapers, magazines and websites for decades. He spent the first 13 years of his career in journalism at daily newspapers before “graduating” to OC Weekly in 1995 as the paper’s first calendar editor. He went on to be managing editor, executive editor and is now senior staff writer.

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