Community Commentary: Bridge will do no good for Costa Mesa

To bridge or not to bridge? Is that the question?

No, first we need to know where we want to go, then we can decide whether a bridge over the Santa Ana River at West 19th Street will take us there, or to some other place we definitely don't want to go.

Surely we don't want Costa Mesa to become like Downey, "where the freeways meet," nor like the cities along the Santa Ana (5) and San Diego (405) freeways, where the din of traffic starts at 5:30 in the morning and roars on past midnight. We'd much rather live in a place with air you can breathe and homes you can relax in, where you hear children at play in the daytime and leaves rustling at night.

Until recently, the Orange County Master Plan of Arterial Highways (MPAH) showed several bridges across the Santa Ana River, including at Gisler Avenue and West 19th. These were arbitrarily drawn as part of a plan adopted when the area was mostly farmland. Planners also proposed extending both the Costa Mesa (55) and the Orange (57) freeways southward to Pacific Coast Highway.

The MPAH is not a sacred script; it has been modified. About 20 years ago, the city of Newport Beach succeeded in having the 55 terminated at 19th Street and Newport Boulevard, in the heart of downtown Costa Mesa.

Just a few years ago, the cities of Costa Mesa, Fountain Valley and Huntington Beach vigorously opposed extending the 57 south of the 405 and shot down construction of the Gisler and 19th Street bridges; we thought we had killed and buried that entire ill-conceived plan. Relying on that success, Costa Mesa changed the zoning, allowing homeowners along West 19th to make long-delayed improvements to their properties. The entire neighborhood was upgraded as a result.

But now a county supervisor and a Costa Mesa City Council member have exhumed the plan. The 19th Street Bridge is rising, zombie-like, to haunt Costa Mesa from west to east.

Such a bridge would divert regional and interstate traffic away from PCH to local streets, clogging arteries in the heart of Costa Mesa's downtown, exacerbating the gridlock around Triangle Square and making it harder and less appealing for potential customers to patronize businesses in and around Triangle Square.

As long as a 19th Street bridge remains on the MPAH, it harms Costa Mesa because the existence of a bridge on paper allows Costa Mesa's neighbors to develop their lands to maximum intensity. They can treat this "paper bridge" in their environmental impact reports as though it were real. This allows them to approve major, high-intensity development projects, such as Banning Ranch, that they could not approve in the absence of a theoretical bridge.

The result of higher-intensity development in neighboring cities will be more and more regional commuter and truck traffic on Costa Mesa's local streets, which were not designed nor built to carry regional traffic. The increased traffic will eventually force the widening of those narrow streets by tearing down homes and businesses and further increase pressure to actually construct a bridge, further degrading residents' quality of life.

Far from revitalizing the Westside as the bridge's proponents claim, a 19th Street bridge clearly would adversely impact everyone who lives, works or owns a business or real property nearby. It would serve only the interests of developers and their supporters in local government who pay little attention to the effects of their business activities on the people who suffer from them.

If you think the people who want a bridge at West 19th are doing this to ease the plight of commuters, I know some developers who may have a bridge to sell you. The only real solution is to delete the "paper bridge" from the MPAH once and for all.

ELEANOR EGAN is a Costa Mesa resident.

Copyright © 2019, Daily Pilot
EDITION: California | U.S. & World