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City opposes car traffic in tunnel

City officials want to avert the potential effects of a proposed tunnel that would funnel thousands of cars from Riverside County onto Laguna Canyon Road.

The City Council unanimously voted April 17 to take actions to counteract the anticipated adverse effects on Laguna Beach from the proposed tunnel for vehicles, buses, a train and water between Riverside County and South Orange County.

“Riverside County wants to relieve congestion on the 91 [Freeway] and are hot for this tunnel,” Councilwoman Elizabeth Schneider said. “I am concerned about it dumping out on the 133.”

Schneider said the tunnel is being marketed in Riverside as a 20-minute ride to Laguna Beach.

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“A train might be a good idea, but we need to get that on the table,” Schneider said. She warned the council that the city needs to be proactive to avoid worsening traffic, if the tunnel is approved, and exacerbated by development in surrounding areas.

“We know that, as part of the Great Park plan, Lennar [the developer] will be constructing 10,000 homes at Heritage Fields that will be accessed by Barranca Parkway [in Irvine],” Schneider said.

“The beaches that will be closest to those homes are Laguna’s. In addition, Irvine Co. is getting ready to build approximately 150 homes that will be accessed from Laguna Canyon Road. Where will they go to the beach? We need to be planning for this.”

Carolyn Wood, representing herself and the Laguna Canyon Conservancy, was in complete agreement with Schneider.Woods said that in the early 1990s, residents became concerned about the effect the Eastern Transportation Corridor would have on Laguna Canyon Road and city traffic. The environmental impact report for the toll road didn’t even show the 133. “It simply ended after it passed the 5 [Freeway] and before it got to the 405,” she said. “They claimed any potential impact ended at the Spectrum and would not extend down Laguna Canyon Road.”

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Increased traffic on Laguna Canyon Road since the toll road opened is proof, Woods believes, of the accuracy of the claim. She suggested that the city conduct a vehicle count on the road, taking weather into consideration.

“We need data so if [tunnel planners] come back and say it won’t be a problem, we’ll know better,” Woods said.

“Laguna Canyon Road is the only road inland for about 15 miles along the coast between Crown Valley Parkway and MacArthur — well, there is Newport Drive,” she said.

The inclination will be for Inland Empire residents who want to go to the beach to take Laguna Canyon Road and then decide whether to stay in town or head either north or south.

Schneider said the city should be proactive in preparing for development that will impact the city as much as the proposed tunnel.

“We need to urge beach-goers this summer and in all future summers to take the train and ask the Orange County Transportation Authority to provide shuttle service from the Irvine Metrolink station to Main Beach and back on weekend mornings and late afternoons, from Memorial Day through Labor Day Weekend to help relieve traffic in Laguna Beach,” Schneider said.

The council approved Schneider’s suggestion and agreed to sign and send a letter to OCTA, the Transportation Corridor Agency, the Orange County Board of Supervisors and all city councils and city managers in Orange County supporting a tunnel for train and water only.

Also recommended by Schneider and approved: A request to OCTA to consider providing a summer shuttle from the Barranca area at Heritage Fields and from the Irvine Co. project off Route 133, once the homes are built, to Main Beach.

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