Commentary: Do not relocate third lane on Coast Highway

In 2004, at the request of the city of Newport Beach, the state of California relinquished all responsibility, including maintenance and liability for the length of East Coast Highway that extends from Newport Coast Drive to Jamboree Road, to accommodate the Corona del Mar Business Improvement District (BID) in its efforts to make aesthetic improvements to the highway throughout its district.

Only one mile of Coast Highway was needed for this effort, but the state required that the city take over three in perpetuity. The city requested $9 million for maintenance, insurance, etc., but the state only provided $3.5 million — a highly questionable deal in the eyes of many.

Changes are in the works to modify the major intersection of MacArthur Boulevard and Coast Highway.

Before any permanent changes are made, consideration must be given to additional traffic from our new Civic Center and park, opening in 2013, and the 20-story, 400,000-square-foot PIMCO office building in Newport Center, opening in early 2014.

If the Banning Ranch project comes to fruition, Coast Highway will have even more traffic.

Additionally, the City Council has recently approved "sharrows" for Coast Highway in CdM, meaning that one of the two lanes in each direction will be marked to allow bicyclists to occupy the full lane.

Coast Highway is the only continuous highway through the city. Nine percent of its traffic is truck traffic. West of MacArthur, the speed limit is 50 mph. Will further changes create more of a bottleneck in the CdM BID?

As part of the revitalization of the business district, an enhanced entry at MacArthur and Coast Highway is being proposed, and the council has authorized a test, putting in place a simulation of what highway changes would occur.

Temporary striping and plastic stanchions will remain in place for the summer, defining a plan to eliminate the third eastbound lane on the south side of Coast Highway at MacArthur, moving the start of the transition of this third lane to Avocado Avenue and reducing to two lanes west of MacArthur.

We need an updated traffic analysis because the city's test doesn't account for the future traffic that will be added to both MacArthur and Coast Highway.

As proposed, the white stripe and plastic stanchions would become the new street edge and the existing 12-foot-wide sidewalk would expand to 33 feet.

The purpose of this very wide sidewalk, as stated by both the CdM BID and the city, is "to make the CdM entry at MacArthur more pedestrian friendly." Nine parking places will be eliminated on the southside of Coast Highway to allow for the widened sidewalk, flowering landscape and new entry sign. The existing third lane now dissolves at Dahlia Street and has worked well for years.

The BID proposed a restaurant row for this location more than a decade ago. Any discussion of using this widened sidewalk for outdoor dining or drinking for two restaurants and a wine shop between Begonia and Carnation avenues was verboten at the recent series of CdM Citizens Advisory Panel meetings.

If sidewalk dining is the real intent, it should be openly discussed and planned for, not just happen after removing a lane and building an expensive 33-foot-wide sidewalk with relocated utilities, etc.

With the introduction of sharrows, more road space, not less, is needed at MacArthur and Coast Highway.

The elimination of nine parking spaces would create a 20-foot-wide area for sidewalk, flowering landscape, palm trees and entry signage, without having to delete the third lane. This would be ample space for the entry statement.

This alternative is not being considered, but it should be.

If you have concerns about the proposed changes, email the council members. Remember this is a city issue, and while Corona del Mar desires to enhance this entry to their part of our city, major changes at this intersection will impact residents of the entire city.

RON HENDRICKSON lives in Newport Beach.

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