After lengthy debates and delays, heavy equipment will finally move in this week to dig up East Coast Highway in downtown Corona del Mar.
For more than two years, residents and merchants in the Newport Beach community have dreaded the start of two construction projects that will tunnel through the business district.
On Monday, the Orange County Sanitation District will start digging on East Coast Highway at Marguerite Avenue to install the final phase of a sewer line to service the Newport Coast development, the stretch of Irvine Co. land between Corona del Mar and Laguna Beach.
The mile-long sewer project will advance east in two-block segments to Newport Beach city limits, where it will connect with existing lines.
In the second project, beginning at Fernleaf Avenue and ending at eastern city limits, the Laguna Beach County Water District will replace a 7,700-foot stretch of deteriorating water pipe that delivers water to Laguna Beach. Most of that work will take place at night.
Once planned as two separate projects with a total estimated construction time of 18 months, the projects will now hopscotch through the community and take about six months to complete, city officials said.
Newport Beach City Engineer Don Webb said the projects have been needed for two years but officials wanted to wait until both could be constructed simultaneously and after Newport Coast Drive was completed.
Newport Coast Drive is a $67-million thoroughfare that cuts from Coast Highway south of Corona del Mar, north to MacArthur Boulevard and bypassing commuter-choked Corona del Mar.
More than 34,000 cars continue to travel through Corona del Mar each day, and despite careful plans to mitigate snarls, traffic is expected to be slowed during the construction.
"Most of the commuters coming through town now are heading directly up Pacific Coast Highway," Newport Beach Mayor Phil Sansone said. "But I think the first time they find themselves waiting 20 or 30 minutes to get through Corona del Mar, they'll find another way to go."
In an attempt to keep traffic moving, two lanes in each direction will be open during commuting hours (7 a.m. to 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. to 6 p.m.), but only one lane in each direction will be open for the remainder of the day, officials said.
"The lanes will be narrower and with the equipment and work going on, traffic slows," Webb said. "There is always that friction that occurs during construction."
Downtown parking will also be affected, a problem that already plagues business owners.
Immediately after learning of the planned projects, the Corona del Mar Chamber of Commerce mobilized a 14-member Construction Impact Committee to work with city officials and other involved parties on the construction timing and planning.
"At first, we felt devastated," said Royal Radtke, chamber president. "But now, we're looking forward to getting it going and finished. We're trying to turn something negative into something positive."
Businesses, such as Bank of America and Sherman Library & Gardens, which have parking lots restricted for customer use, will now open those lots to the general public.