Fifth District Supervisor Tom Wilson wore a big smile as he wielded big ceremonial scissors at the Laguna Canyon Road ribbon-cutting ceremony Wednesday.
County officials and stakeholders in the road project celebrated the conclusion of the project, which realigned 3.9 miles of the highway from the toll road to I-4-5, added another lane in each direction (north- and south-bound lanes to be separated by landscaping), on-road bike lanes, an improved the entrance to Nix Nature Center in the Laguna Coast Wilderness Park, and constructed water quality basins and bridges at key points over the road, which was moved from between the two natural lakes in the Laguna Canyon.
“We are here today to recognize the people and the organizations that have so diligently worked to make this important road possible,” said celebration master of ceremonies Herb Nakasone, county director of public works and chief engineer.
The project was more than 10 years in the making and involved the cooperation of county, state and local government agencies, landowners and the environmental community.
“It was almost 14 years ago to the day that we started the ‘Consensus Committee’,” Laguna Greenbelt Inc. President Elisabeth Brown said.
The committee was created by the late fifth district Supervisor Tom Riley in the hope that environmental concerns could be detoured before the road project went into public hearings.
One of the consensus group’s highest priorities was moving the road out from between the two lakes, a suggestion first made by Greenbelt member Jon Brand.
“The new road is better, but he has first claim on the idea,” Brown said. “I am going to walk to Barbara’s Lake in the Dilley Preserve and then take the trail under the bridge to Little Sycamore.”
Barbara’s Lake, named for the late Barbara Stuart, an ardent supporter of open-space acquisitions, is the largest and southernmost of the two lakes, which formerly were divided by the road and frequently flooded it in the winter.
“I want to thank everyone who made this possible,” Brown said.
Brown was speaking at the request of Mayor Pro Tem Toni Iseman, who was listed in the program as a featured speaker.
“I thought this isn’t right because the person who taught us that the road was really okay and let us rest easy because we knew she was at table was Elisabeth Brown,” Iseman said.
Nakasone also paid tribute to the contributions of the cities of Laguna Beach and Irvine; the Orange County Transportation Authority; the Irvine Co.; U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; California Department of Fish and Game; the United States Fish and Wildlife Service; regional water boards; design and construction firms LSA Associates, RBF Consulting and LAN Engineering; Caltrans District 12; county departments; contractor SEMA; Laguna Coast Greenbelt Authority; Laguna Canyon Foundation; and the Laguna Canyon Road Design Oversight Committee.
Speakers included Caltrans Deputy Director Jim Beil, Irvine Mayor Sukhee Kang and Supervisor Wilson.
Wilson made the road project a major priority in his terms as supervisor, soon to end as he terms out this year.
“We just made it under the wire,” Wilson said.
Wilson said no one knew him when the governor appointed him supervisor in 1996, so the staff recommended he take on a project that everybody favored, a slam dunk that would give him name recognition.
“No one told me about the fish and wildlife service,” Wilson said.
Ground was finally broken for the project in 1993 and completed just eight weeks before Wilson is due to leave office.
“So I have a smile on my face today,” Wilson said.
Safety was his first concern when he was introduced to the project, but he also recognized that in an area closely monitored by environmentalists, the county could not simply start bulldozing.
“The teamwork demonstrates to people outside the county what can be done when groups come together to do a project in an environmentally sensitive way,” Wilson said. “Everyone who played a part in the project should be — and can be — proud of what they accomplished.”