Caltrans broke ground Tuesday on a $28-million project to widen and realign part of scenic Laguna Canyon Road -- long-delayed improvements to reduce accidents along the dangerous rural highway and to restore environmentally sensitive watersheds.
"Some of you have waited 10 years or more for this," Kenneth R. Smith, Orange County's director of public works, said during ceremonies in Laguna Beach.
A four-mile stretch of highway through Laguna Coast Wilderness Park will be rebuilt from the San Joaquin Hills tollway to Old Laguna Canyon Road near the San Diego Freeway. The project is expected to take about four years; the current road will be open during construction.
The right-of-way, which now divides three Laguna Canyon lakes, will be realigned to the west before rejoining the original route at its north end.
Plans call for two lanes and a bicycle path in each direction. The highway will be divided by a median landscaped with native species. In addition, all utility poles and power lines will be underground, improving safety and aesthetics.
There will be four trail and wildlife crossings, and highway runoff will be funneled to four drainage basins and "bio-swales" -- strips of vegetation that filter pollutants before they enter the watershed.
Officials said they hope the additional lanes, new median and wider shoulders will eliminate Laguna Canyon's reputation as one of the most dangerous roads in the county.
Caltrans figures show 410 accidents between 1994 and 2001 on the highway. Twelve people were killed and 617 injured.
Officials had planned to begin widening Laguna Canyon Road in the 1994-95 budget year, but those plans were halted by the county's bankruptcy. Even after the county emerged from bankruptcy, tens of millions of dollars for road projects were diverted to the financial recovery plan.
Times staff writer Ray Herndon contributed to this report.