Will Traffic Take its Toll in Newport Coast?

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Much of the future well being of the City of Newport Beach depends upon respecting, valuing, and preserving our priceless environment.

From the air pollution emanating from wood burning fire rings and the jets flying out of John Wayne Airport to the pollutants that sift into the bay and ocean from boats and urban run-off, a contaminated environment deeply affects the people of this city.

Which is why sensible governmental regulations and ethical land use planning are so essential. That’s why the proposed development of the Banning Ranch in West Newport/Costa Mesa is so objectionable. The full-page color ads that have recently appeared in the local media are paid for by those committed to building 1,275 homes, a 75-room hotel, and up to 75,000 square feet of retail space.

Visit the developer’s web site (newportbanningranchtrust.org) and you’ll read the following message: “As the need for quality open space in Orange County can get cluttered in politics and scarcity of funds, the Newport Banning Ranch will immediately add 287 acres (over 76 percent) of its land dedicated to open space to be forever protected.”

The first part of that sentence is arguable, and while the latter part of the sentence is admirable, it does not address the essential problem: West Newport is constrained by severely limited through streets—Pacific Coast Highway and Newport Boulevard. No matter how bucolic the proposed Banning Ranch development, its residents and visitors would dramatically increase the traffic already congesting these two highways.

To understand the effects of this sort of planning, we can look to the other end of town: Newport Coast. Its residents must rely upon Coast Highway to get anywhere at all. There is only one through street, Newport Coast Drive, which gives access to the 73 Toll Road – and even here good traffic flow is truncated by the need to pay a toll between Bison and Newport Coast Drive. (And how odd that public access to Shady Canyon Drive is cut off by a guard gate at midpoint, so that non-residents must make a lengthy detour onto the congested San Diego Freeway to reach the Quail Hills Shopping Center).

That this sort of planning has caused Coast Highway through Corona del Mar to become inordinately congested is obvious, but the problem has been exacerbated by poor signage.

Which is why Mayor Ed Selich has proposed the Corona del Mar Bypass Plan.

During the Speak Up Newport forum of January 14 regarding the 73 Toll Road, it was clear that many attendees were confused by the term “bypass,” which they understandably took to be a new road of some sort.

In a later telephone interview, Selich explained his multi-step proposal so that northbound drivers on Coast Highway get the message that Newport Coast Drive is a convenient alternative to get to Newport Center, Fashion Island, MacArthur Blvd., and the 405 Freeway. (As it stands now there’s only signage for the 73 Toll Road.)

Selich’s plan begins with a traffic study, followed by “more robust static signage, which would morph into electronic signage, and [cell] phone aps,” he said, and added that this involves working with Caltrans and the City of Irvine and requires time.

I asked whether anyone from the City had spoken to the Irvine Company about providing some interim signage at Newport Coast Drive that would direct many drivers around Corona del Mar. According to Selich, they had not.

What about using the existing portable electronic sign that currently warns northbound drivers to expect delays near Newport Coast Drive in mid-February? Perhaps it could be re-programmed to redirect drivers around Corona del Mar. The City doesn’t own that sign but it might rent one for six months and see how it goes.

These are simple, inexpensive steps that can be taken now, if we citizens possess the will to press the City to act on them. The new council has announced its desire to listen to the citizenry. Let’s take them up on it.

Jean Ardell is the President of the Newport Beach Women’s Democratic Club and will serve as a delegate from the 74th Assembly District to the California Democratic Convention. She can be reached at [email protected].

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