Horton Plaza Building Snarl : Street Scene Features Traffic in Slow Motion

Times Staff Writer

The phrase “world-class” has been much in vogue recently in civic discussions about downtown San Diego. And, in at least one regard, the description fits.

For the last month and a half, Broadway has been a world-class mess as construction crews ripped up the street to install decorative bricks around the soon-to-open Horton Plaza shopping and entertainment complex. Huge mid-street chunks of asphalt and holes the size of swimming pools, combined with blocks-long traffic snarls, have left downtown’s major traffic artery looking like Beirut at rush hour.

“The streets of downtown San Diego are the absolute pits,” said City Councilman Uvaldo Martinez, whose district includes downtown. “It’s disastrous. But relief’s in sight.”

And how do city officials spell relief? M-O-N-E-Y.


Following weeks of complaints from frazzled motorists and angry downtown business owners, the Centre City Development Corp. board of directors today is expected to approve spending an additional $18,000 to expedite completion of the $1 million street construction project.

The additional money will permit contractors to pay crews to work overtime and on weekends to complete the project by July 29, 10 days ahead of schedule, according to Gerald M. Trimble, the executive vice president of CCDC, the city’s redevelopment arm. The original target date for completion was Aug. 7, which Trimble noted was “uncomfortably close” to the planned Aug. 9 opening of Horton Plaza.

“The sooner the better,” said Gary Fischer of Dobson’s Bar & Restaurant, located on 2nd Avenue near Broadway. “It looks like a combat zone around here.”

Installation of the red-and-charcoal-colored decorative bricks on Broadway between 1st and 4th avenues caused the temporary closure of two lanes of traffic, leaving only one eastbound and one westbound lane open. The decorative pavement also is being installed--and, therefore, producing additional traffic disruptions--on the newly named Broadway Place, which covers the portions of 2nd and 3rd avenues and E Street surrounding the Central Savings tower, adjacent to the 6 1/2-block Horton Plaza site.


The traffic problems have been exacerbated by the recent closure of a portion of C Street to make way for a new trolley line and by routine maintenance and improvements on other downtown streets.

Since construction began on Broadway, short downtown drives that once took five minutes have become half-hour adventures through an urban slalom course of orange pylons and confusing “no turn” and other directional signs that change day to day.

“You can see where you want to get but you usually can’t get there,” said Fischer, who bills himself as Dobson’s executive beverage counselor. “I’ve about given up trying to give people directions. How do you tell someone staying at the Hotel Del (Coronado) how to get here in his rental car? It’s like, go to Guam, turn right around the dark side of the moon, then circle the Wells Fargo Building, look for the piles of dirt and you’re here.”

The official line from CCDC is that, yes, there are some problems, but things are coming along nicely and all of the headaches will be forgotten once the street work is done and Horton Plaza opens.


“Most people realize this is sort of a temporary cross we have to bear until August,” said Kathy Kalland, a CCDC spokeswoman. “It’s the price we pay for redevelopment of our downtown.”

Not everyone, however, has remained so equanimous. A blind man, for example, called CCDC to complain that the construction has made it all but impossible for him to cross Broadway. In fact, the heaps of torn-up pavement, roped off areas and temporary absence of proper crosswalk markings--as well as motorists who either ignore or miss traffic signs--have made crossing Broadway hazardous even for sighted pedestrians.

CCDC’s expected recommendation that the city pay the L.R. Hubbard Construction Co. and the Dyno Construction Co. an additional $12,525 and $5,150, respectively, to speed completion of the project must be approved next week by the City Council. However, council members, who have received numerous complaints from constituents and can see the severe traffic congestion from their City Hall windows, are expected to go along with any plan that will help put the problem behind them a bit sooner.