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Digging Up Laguna’s PCH Seems a Perpetual Motion

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

Dear Street Smart:

We live on Pacific Coast Highway in South Laguna. A while back, PCH was opened up and all our power lines were put under ground (such a visual improvement). A bit later, PCH was again opened and some other necessity was dropped in. Later, poor PCH was again carved up to insert some other device.

Now they are at it again, laying sewer pipe for miles down the now very bumpy PCH, and again creating a daily traffic problem both north and south.

My question: Is it possible for these agencies and/or private companies to band together and do everything at once or, at least, twice? At one point it was a bare few months between operations. Could this be a plot to rid Laguna Beach of Pacific Coast Highway?

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Tom De Paolo, South Laguna

Ah, the old dig-up-the-road-and-tick-off-the-residents trick, eh? Let’s hope not.

What’s at work on Coast Highway is the road diggers. It ain’t pretty, but they’re all we got. They’re the sewer districts, the electrical utilities, the telephone companies. And when they want to lay down their lines or unearth a faulty section of pipe, there’s not much that stands in the way of the jackhammers.

To dig up a swath of pavement, a utility or contractor must get permission from the city or agency that oversees operation of the thoroughfare. In the case of Coast Highway, it’s Caltrans.

Joe Hecker, a Caltrans deputy director in Orange County, said a contractor must get an “encroachment permit” before slicing up the pavement to put in a new power line or lay sewer pipe.

Caltrans has a department that does nothing but review such permits. Most of the time, Hecker said, an effort is made to ensure that the construction job disrupts traffic as little as possible and coincides with any other work planned in the vicinity at about the same time.

Obviously, such matters can rarely be worked out. Matching up the sewer guys and electrical folks is like putting a green tie with a red shirt--it’s hard to coordinate. They’re distinct agencies with different goals and timetables.

An example: The sewer people may want to put in a pipe in May, but the electricity people won’t have money to lay a new line until December. The sewer people don’t want to wait that long, so-- voila! --the road is dug up twice in the same calendar year.

“I can share his irritation over this, but it’s awful difficult to delay one construction job for another one that’s not going to get going for quite a while,” Hecker said.

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From the sound of things along Coast Highway in South Laguna, however, it’s like a war zone out there of late. Hopefully, the powers that be at Caltrans will work double time to find a way in the future to ease the impacts of the road diggers on that swath of highway.

Otherwise, they might have to rename it PCD--Pacific Coast Donkeypath.

Dear Street Smart:

Why does the price of gasoline go up every spring and stay up through the summer and then go back down in the fall? Is it because of all the summer traveling and the gas companies so greedy to get all the money they can?

James Bollschweiler, Westminster

You guessed it. It’s those gremlins of supply and demand at work.

May signals the start of the summer driving season, those yummy days when people pack up the car and hit the highway for a little R and R. To do it, they buy more gasoline. As a result, demand goes up, and so do prices.

But there’s more at work this year than the mere seasonal fluctuations. National stocks of gasoline have fallen to their lowest levels in 18 years, in large part due to the events surrounding the Persian Gulf War.

Experts say the U.S. refiners should have enough production capacity to meet the demand, with imported gasoline making up the difference. But an unexpected event--anything from a fire at a key refinery to another war--could affect that.

So, as I always do when I hit the gas station, hold your breath. Prices will edge up, as they do most summers. Nationally, they’ve been rising for the last two months, with self-service regular unleaded gasoline averaging $1.13 a gallon a week ago. As the summer heats up, expect to pay another five to 15 cents.

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Sick of the freeway? Tired of the El Toro “Y”? The Orange Crush have you beat?

It’s time to call in Dr. Roadmap.

The good doctor is a Fullerton podiatrist named David J. Rizzo. When he isn’t treating foot ailments, Rizzo is driving the back streets of Southern California. The result is his book, “Freeway Alternatives: A Guide to Commuting in Los Angeles and Orange Counties.”

The book contains more than 100 pages of maps of various pieces of the megalopolis showing the best routes Rizzo has found for avoiding the freeways but still getting to your destination before your brake pads are shot from the stop lights.

Among the spots given full-page treatment in Orange County are Anaheim, the streets around Anaheim Stadium, Costa Mesa, Dana Point, Disneyland, Fullerton, Garden Grove, Huntington Beach, Laguna Hills, Mission Viejo, Irvine, Santa Ana, Westminster and Yorba Linda.

Each map page is designed as simply as possible. Typically, only the best route north, south, east and west is indicated, all in an effort to keep things simple.

To test the system, I took a look at the recommended streets surrounding my neighborhood in Santa Ana. In most cases, Rizzo seemed to get it right. To head north into Orange, he recommends Main Street. Southbound, he puts his money on Fairview Street. Points east and west are best reached via Edinger Avenue.

Rizzo provides not only directional tips but also a few hints on driving the surface streets. For instance, he suggests that the secret to success is timing: “We’ve zoomed past that happy old gent in the mid-sixties Rambler, only to see him pull up behind us minutes later while we wait for a signal. Take a lesson from him.”

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Certainly Rizzo’s book, which lists for $10.95, isn’t for everyone. But it certainly could come in handy for the more timid of us who don’t read maps very well or are locked into a set route and are afraid to stray from the beaten path of the freeway.

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