NEWPORT BEACH : Vital Bridge Link Is Nearly Completed

After months of delays that have caused both residents and visitors more than a year of traffic woes, improvements to the bridge that carries commuters to and from the Balboa Peninsula and Newport Boulevard are due to be complete in February.

The completion date for $3.3-million project was pushed back after an underground oil well was discovered on the site, according to city traffic engineers.

The improperly abandoned underground well was probably built in the 1920s or 1930s on the site of a former gas station near the intersection of Via Lido and Balboa Boulevard, which is one of the busiest traffic areas on the construction site.

City traffic engineer Richard Edmonston said the well was simply shut off when it was abandoned. The well could have posed a fire hazard without being properly capped, and the city was forced to place fire crews on call at the construction site while specialists were brought in to treat the oil and cap the well.

The process cost more than $500,000 and delayed construction for months, Edmonston said. Construction on the joint city-state Department of Transportation project began in September, 1990, and was to have been completed by fall or winter of 1991.

Even before the oil well was discovered, the construction caused traffic tie-ups immediately in and out of the peninsula, further exacerbated by a hairpin turn to maneuver onto the southbound West Coast Highway lane from the peninsula.

"It was one of those things no one had planned on, but once you see it you have to take care of it," Edmonston said.

But workers in December laid the burnt-orange brick center dividers on the peninsula side of the project, signaling the near completion of the project.

The narrow road is a vital link between the peninsula and the rest of Newport Beach and neighboring cities. Traffic leaving the peninsula had backed up for miles during the busy summer months, when up to 200,000 visitors come to the Newport Beach area.

The main addition to the road will be a third, inland-bound lane at 32nd Street that will take drivers out of the peninsula and it is hoped ease outgoing congestion. Studies showed that about a third of the inland-bound traffic was from people needing to turn onto Via Lido, and the extra lane is expected to decrease congestion by 30%.

The lane will turn directly onto West Coast Highway southbound, and the ramp should be smoother than the tight turn there now.

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