Newport Beach Mayor Nancy Gardner sent a letter to the region's transportation agency this week, urging its directing board to put the 19th Street Bridge proposal back on the county's master transportation plan or work with her city on other traffic-reducing alternatives.
Gardner and the City Council want to avoid suing the Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA), which jettisoned the bridge from its master plan at the urging of Costa Mesa and Huntington Beach.
Newport, however, plans to take legal action if OCTA doesn't comply with its request to negotiate putting the bridge proposal back on the grid or if OCTA rejects alternatives outlined in Gardner's letter to explore traffic-reducing alternatives.
"We do not believe that it is appropriate to dismiss good regional transportation policy and cooperation between the cities, county, Caltrans and OCTA to hurry this up," Gardner wrote in a Monday letter to OCTA's board of directors. "As a result, Newport Beach is conflicted about filing a lawsuit against of its valued partners, OCTA."
Gardner offered two alternatives to legal action.
The first is for Huntington Beach, Costa Mesa and Newport to agree to traffic-reducing measures in lieu of the bridge and to demote the arterial route to "reserve" status. This designation would mean the bridge is not used in regional transportation planning and it would be removed from the plan when the rest of the area's projects are done.
The second would keep the bridge off the master plan, but get a guarantee from the other cities that agreed-upon traffic reduction measures will be executed.
"I think that one of the things that happens, we all talk about how we want to work together and everything — I think there's good motive there — but the fact of the matter is you tend to get focused on your own city," Gardner said in an interview Tuesday. "It's easy to forget. Even with the best intentions, if we have [a guarantee] there, then we have a great reminder."
Newport has been the lone holdout in keeping the proposed bridge linking Costa Mesa's Westside and Huntington Beach at Banning Avenue over the Santa Ana River on the map.
Costa Mesa and Huntington residents strongly oppose the 19th Street Bridge, fearing it will bring additional traffic. Supporters, however, believe it will reduce traffic on the area's three primary crossings over the Santa Ana River: Adams Avenue and Victoria Street in Costa Mesa, and Pacific Coast Highway in Newport.
Traffic in the area is expected to increase with the planned residential development of Banning Ranch.
In March, OCTA removed the bridge from the plan without consulting Newport Beach.
OCTA policy requires that all affected cities — in this case Costa Mesa, Huntington and Newport — agree to remove the bridge for it to be taken off the county's master plan. OCTA voted to take it off after a wave of public pressure and when Costa Mesa and Huntington agreed to doing so.
Newport Beach's City Council voted 5 to 2 in April to sue OCTA in response, but left the door open for more amicable terms by unanimously directing City Manager Dave Kiff to reach out to OCTA for alternatives.
"I think it underlines our position that we are trying to protect our residents and our city, but we're certainly willing to work," Gardner said. "It doesn't have to be our way or the highway. We are willing to explore various paths to come up with a good agreement."