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Getting Out of a Jam : Two Projects Aim to Untie Traffic Snarl

Times Staff Writer

Jim Allchin couldn’t take the mile-long traffic jam at Coast Highway and Del Obispo Street in Dana Point anymore.

So at rush hour one day this week, he threw his pickup truck into gear, illegally crossed the double yellow line and sped past stalled traffic at the intersection to make a left-turn signal before it turned back to red.

Allchin, 28, a technician from San Clemente, explained that traffic has gotten so bad at the intersection that he often has to wait through as many as three light cycles.

“This has never been as bad,” he said.

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‘Sleepy Town’ No More

In what was known not too long ago as “the sleepy little mission town” of San Juan Capistrano and in the once-quiet beach communities of Dana Point and Capistrano Beach, traffic on many days approaches the congestion that occasionally paralyzes Laguna Beach.

During the next 5 years, an estimated $10.5 million in federal, state and local funds will be spent on two separate but connecting projects to build new bridges across a creek bed, extend major roads and make new freeway connections. Railroad tracks that have been in place for nearly a century will be moved to accommodate the widening of one main thoroughfare.

It will all happen within a radius of less than a mile, mostly in the vicinity of San Juan Creek where it runs through the southern part of San Juan Capistrano on its way to the ocean between what are now Capistrano Beach and Dana Point--soon to be joined as the city of Dana Point.

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“Any (project) that opens up the traffic flow will be just great,” said Chris Ake, manager of the San Juan Capistrano Chamber of Commerce.

“It will be beneficial for everyone, the people who live or work near downtown and those in the outlying districts trying to reach freeways,” she said.

Two Projects Planned

The first of the two jobs, expected to get under way in 1991-92 and be completed in about 2 years, will be the extension of Stonehill Drive from Dana Point across San Juan Creek to connect with Camino Capistrano and Interstate 5.

The heavily traveled street, which now ends at San Juan Creek, runs east and west through Dana Point about a mile inland from Coast Highway.

“The Stonehill extension will be one of the key improvements in this part of the county,” said Mike Eggers, councilman-elect of Dana Point, which will become the county’s 28th city Jan. 1. “It will absolutely open up the present Dana Point gridlock by providing a route parallel to Coast Highway and reaching the freeway.”

The extension will involve construction of a bridge across San Juan Creek and another bridge over the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe tracks used by Amtrak, said Hernan M. Pelaez, senior civil engineer for the county’s Transportation and Road Projects agency.

Pelaez said 85% of the estimated cost of $7.5 million will come from federal urban aid sources and 15% will be split between the county, San Juan Capistrano and Dana Point.

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Extra Freeway Exit

William Murphy, director of Public Works for San Juan Capistrano, said Stonehill is “a major priority” for the city because it will relieve traffic by giving drivers heading for Dana Point and other coastal destinations an extra exit from the freeway. Most motorists now use the Avery Parkway, Junipero Serra or Ortega Highway off-ramps, all of which shunt them through downtown San Juan Capistrano. From there, they can take either Camino Capistrano or Del Obispo Street to their destinations.

With Stonehill available, all those who use Camino Capistrano can exit at San Juan Creek Road. Motorists coming north from San Diego will be able to avoid the usually jammed Coast Highway-Del Obispo intersection.

Meanwhile, plans are being made for the second project, which involves realignment of more than half a mile of railroad track so that Camino Capistrano can be widened to carry its expected extra burdens as it approaches Stonehill.

The track, Santa Fe spokesman Mike Martin said, has been in its existing alignment “almost exactly 100 years.”

At present, Camino Capistrano, a main artery that passes through the heart of San Juan Capistrano, is squeezed at one point to two lanes between the railroad tracks and the freeway.

The new alignment will straighten out a loop that curves

toward Camino Capistrano, at one point coming to within about 10 yards of the street.

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Elimination of the bend in the track alignment would be accomplished by constructing a new bridge across San Juan Creek and demolishing the present steel-and-concrete bridge, which Martin said was built in 1918 to replace a wooden span.

When the tracks are straightened, some vacant property that is now almost inaccessible between the rails and the creek will have frontage on Camino Capistrano.

Murphy said the San Juan Capistrano Community Redevelopment Agency has contracted with the Boyle Engineering Corp. of Newport Beach for a $65,806 “pre-design right-of-way conceptual study” to be completed by March 1, 1989. He said construction of the railroad project would probably follow the Stonehill work.

Financing for the railroad realignment is expected to come in two increments: $1.2 million from Amtrak and the state Department of Transportation, and a federal grant of $1.8 million that the city is seeking from the Urban Mass Transportation Administration.

The south county traffic improvements won’t come in time to help 52-year-old Don Kush, a disabled welder who moved to San Clemente 3 years ago from Hesperia. Kush, stuck in traffic at Coast Highway and Del Obispo this week, grumbled that he can’t take much more of sitting on a highway.

“I’m gonna move out of here,” Kush said. “Here, you can’t do anything. You’re locked in everywhere.”

Times staff writer Jim Carlton contributed to this story


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