Accord Seen on Widening of Laguna Canyon Road

Times Staff Writer

After years of bitter opposition, Laguna Beach is nearing an agreement with the California Department of Transportation to widen part of Laguna Canyon Road, a winding, two-lane thoroughfare on which more than 30 people have been killed in the last decade.

Laguna Beach City Manager Kenneth C. Frank confirmed the details of the plan, which is to be outlined at a public workshop on Oct. 21 at the Laguna Beach City Council chambers and voted on by the council on Nov. 3.

“I think the direction is certainly positive,” said Mayor Neil J. Fitzpatrick, after hearing details of the $11-million plan. “It appears as though (Caltrans planners) have made an effort to modify the design.”


“It’s a big safety problem the way it is,” said Mayor Pro-tem Dan Kenney, “and it has to be corrected.”

Caltrans officials could not be reached for comment.

Over the years, white wooden crosses have been placed by friends and relatives of victims of fatal accidents along the nine-mile highway connecting the San Diego Freeway, Interstate 405, with the Pacific Coast Highway.

The widening, Frank said, has been worked out in discussions with the city’s staff and Caltrans planners, with a goal of reducing the kinds of objections that have blocked similar proposals in the past.

Under the plan, a three-mile section from El Toro Road to Canyon Acres--including the stretch through the Big Bend area--would be widened from two lanes to four lanes. The sharp curve through the Big Bend would be straightened somewhat, and opposing traffic lanes on the bend would be separated by a solid concrete barrier to prevent head-on collisions.

Other sections of the road would be divided by landscaped medians 12 feet wide, some of which would have concrete, 12-inch curbs and gutters. Several breaks, including traffic signals, would enable drivers to make left and U-turns, Frank said.

“We don’t want to turn this thing into a faster raceway than it already is,” Frank said.

Like many in Laguna Beach, Frank said he favored keeping Laguna Canyon Road two lanes, while adding barriers and medians. But he said Caltrans would not agree to the barriers without widening.


Caltrans has agreed to reduce the proposed speed limits on the four-lane straightaways from 50 m.p.h. to 45 m.p.h. The original Caltrans plan to drastically straighten the road through Big Bend by removing an estimated 2.3 million cubic yards of hillside--a plan rejected by the California Coastal Commission on environmental grounds--has been scaled down. The new plan calls for removal of half a million cubic yards.

“If that is the case,” said Kenney, who had not seen the proposal, “it really does take much of my concern away about the safety.” Both Kenney and his wife have been involved in head-on collisions on Laguna Canyon Road.

Some aspects of the final settlement have yet to be worked out, Frank said. The city would like all of the medians to have curbs and would like to see landscaping on both sides of the median barrier through the Big Bend area.

“We still need to find some way to mitigate the stark appearance of the concrete barrier,” Frank said.

Donald Black, a board member of the Laguna Beach Taxpayers Assn., agreed that the proposal was a step in the right direction but cautioned that most traffic fatalities have taken place along sections of the road not covered by the proposal.

“Big Bend is not the carnage spot,” Black said. “That fact is escaping a lot of people.”

The most recent head-on collision on Laguna Canyon Road, which killed three young people in April, occurred 1 1/2 miles north of El Toro Road.