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City officials push sidewalk project

City officials have not given up on constructing a sidewalk and bicycle path along South Coast Highway from Nyes Place almost to Ruby’s Diner, despite Caltrans’ rejection of a city proposal.

The city will seek detailed direction from Caltrans, which earlier this month declined to approve an 800-foot-long sidewalk project submitted by the city that did not meet the state Department of Transportation standards.

If Caltrans had approved the city’s proposal, part of the cost would have been eligible for a grant from the Orange County Transportation Authority, which administers federal funds for projects in this area. OCTA is the reviewing agency.

"[City Manager Ken Frank] will be writing a letter to Caltrans asking for more specific direction or what alternatives they might consider,” Public Works Director Steve May said. “The next time grants are allocated, we will have an even better chance to be successful because we would go in with a more complete plan, with a design that is acceptable to all parties.”

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The city applied for a grant three years ago, with a timeline for the start and completion of a project, on which the grant term was based, May said.

“We needed to be in a position to award a contract by June 1,” May said.

May requested an extension of the term after Caltrans rejected the city’s proposal, but OCTA refused based on federal restrictions.

“We never had the money to spend, but if the project was approved by Caltrans and built, we would have submitted a bill to OCTA,” Mays said.

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Caltrans’ standard regulations include an eight-foot-wide right shoulder along a conventional four-lane highway. However, a minimum of five feet is required for bicycles.

A preliminary plan for a sidewalk and retaining wall that met the Caltrans standards was prepared and abandoned by city officials.

“That plan boosted the cost beyond what was contemplated or funded by the grant and the city budget,” May said. “And it would have required property owners adjacent to the sidewalk to deed eight feet to the city.

“St. Catherine’s School supported the plan, but the condominium owners said no and if the project proceeded, they wanted to be held harmless [from future claims], which the city considered might be a significant liability.”

A revised plan for the project was supported by the Bicycle Assn. even though it reduced the bike lane to three feet, according to the city manager.

“We went to Caltrans and pleaded our case to top staff, with support from the bicycle people for our plan, but Caltrans wouldn’t agree to the reduction,” May said.

In a letter dated May 8, Joseph Pinhero, deputy district director of the state transportation department, said the department declined reduction of the shoulder width because of the impact on roadway safety for vehicles and bikes by reducing a potential recovery area for errant vehicles, as well as reducing the separation of bikes from faster moving vehicles.

Pinhero said the department would consider alternatives that preserve or enhance the shoulder width, thereby maintaining or improving safety for highway users.

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The city’s proposal would include pedestrians as highway users.

“Pedestrians’ perception is that sidewalks are safer because they are separated from traffic by a curb,” May said. “A sidewalk would provide a safe path along the highway for them.

“We will reapply for a grant if we can come up with a plan that satisfies everyone.”


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