OPINION

'Road kill' in our debates over growth

By Lisa Ross

November 4, 1999

Road Kill is the subject of intense conversation in SANDAG subcommittees, city halls, business associations and smart growth policy workshops as struggling transportation planners consider reviving several roads eliminated or downgraded in the region's general plans over the past three decades.

Yesterday, San Diego City Council's Land Use and Housing Committee considered the controversial deleted road issue and recommended that roads across the San Dieguito River Valley and Peñasquitos Canyon Preserve not be revived.

The catalyst for this born-again road revivalism is the San Diego Highway Development Association's 1997 GAPS Report that blames the sorry state of our transportation systems on gutless officials who succumbed to NIMBY's and environmentalists when they deleted or narrowed 29 road segments. The report suggests that if many of these roads were alive today, we'd be cruising our 2.5 family cars through the county with the greatest of ease.

While some of the extinct road segments in the report might deserve a second look, two of the most problematic are commanding the most attention -- one, a Camino Ruiz extension from SR 78 to SR 56 across the San Dieguito River Valley then over Peñasquitos Canyon Preserve, the other another four-lane bridge across the canyon at Camino Santa Fe.

Among other politically explosive roads deemed feasible though not necessarily recommended by the report are La Jolla Scenic Drive through Soledad Natural Park.

No one can blame the instincts of the SDHDA, and many of us admire their nerve if not their political smarts. Others welcome the chance to bid one last fond farewell to roads once dead and gone if for no other reason than to remind transportation planners that San Diegans often give up convenience to preserve their community's quality of life and San Diego's natural beauty.

However well-intentioned, moving forward with Camino Ruiz and Camino Santa Fe breaks faith not only with homeowners in our newest master-planned communities who came to depend on their community plans, but with property owners and developers who struggled to meet environmental and planning restrictions when they designed their projects. After a gut-wrenching decade of achieving enough community and environmental consensus to pass muster with the voters and decision-makers, putting these roads back would be a costly setback to these developers, driving housing prices higher.

Unquestionably, the region's health demands transportation improvements: traffic jams on Interstate 15 and Interstate 5 is an economic and psychic drain. And, business centers such as Sorrento Mesa struggle with access for their customers and employees. But relief does not necessitate destruction of beloved parks, endangered habitats, and community plans.

There are other highway improvements not mentioned in GAPS that make sense and could achieve a high level of support. For example, a fly-over connection from I-5 to Lusk Boulevard over Sorrento Valley would clean up one of San Diego's quaintest traffic snafus, providing efficient access to the Sorrento Mesa employment center without destroying Penasquitos Canyon.

And, funding a number of missing direct freeway connectors, including SR 56's northbound ramps, would be cheerfully welcomed by impacted communities and commuters to our growing north county business centers.

But, not all roads lead to Nirvana -- there are other interesting traffic solutions resulting from modem planning principles already in the works.

  •  Our newest master-planned communities, like Carmel Valley, 4-S Ranch, Black Mountain Ranch and Pacific Highlands Ranch are designed as live-aboard communities with shopping, recreational centers, employment centers and schools within walking and shuttle bus distance of residential neighborhoods.
  •  Many new communities, like San Elijo Ranch, will be wired for the information age, anticipating the steep growth in telecommuting and e-commerce over the next ten years that will reduce the number of short convenience trips.
  • As new high density developments along transit corridors and urban in-fill projects move ahead, public transportation will become more feasible.
  •  Improved air, water and rail cargo facilities could cut truck traffic in half.

Several decades ago, the Army Corps of Engineers offered to build a six-lane highway through Sausalito to relieve the bumper-to-bumper congestion in that Northern California tourist mecca. The road would have eliminated downtown Sausalito. The mayor declined the opportunity.

San Diegans also will likely decline the chance to add roads that promise marginal traffic improvements while destroying such beloved recreational and preserve areas as Peñasquitos Canyon, the San Dieguito River Valley and Mission Trails Park. And, our sense of fair-play will prevent us from breaking deals struck with property owners who will bear the impacts.

Spending time and public resources on reviving dead-end roads is a trip to nowhere.

Ross is a member of the Carmel Valley Planning Board.

Copyright 1999 Union-Tribune Publishing Co.