CalTrans is planning to widen the freeway from Mussel Shoals to Bates Road, 'the Rincon' in northern Ventura County. The Ventura County Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation has been involved in this issue for the past few years, attending the public meetings and commenting on the planning process. The Caltrans plan aims to reduce traffic congestion by turning the 4 lane highway into a 6 lane freeway, with HOV (High Occupancy Vehicle) lanes.
Because of the public involvement, there are many other components to the project. These include:
- Four miles of California Coastal Trail (CCT) bikeway, separated from the highway by see-through safety barriers and railings designed to maximize views to the ocean.
- Removal of existing shoulder concrete barrier.
- Construct concrete median in a context sensitive tone.
- Development of beach access points at Bates Road, Rincon Point, State Park, La Conchita, Mussel Shoals, Punta Gorda and Mobil Pier.
- Additional parking for at least 211 vehicles at Punta Gorda; accessible from 101 with connections to the beach and bikeway/CCT.
- Pedestrian Undercrossing (PUC) at La Conchita with beach and bikeway/CCT connection.
- Bike racks at Mobil Pier, Punta Gorda, Mussel Shoals and La Conchita.
- Trash receptacles at La Conchita, Mussel Shoals, Punta Gorda, and Mobil Pier.
- One toilet facility between Bates Road and Mobil Pier.
- Revitalization of existing Pedestrian Undercrossing at Punta Gorda.
- Include a Handicap space at Mobil Pier, and
- Improved beach access at Mobil Pier.
- Install Soundwalls at Mussel Shoals that are the shortest length feasible.
- Install Coastal Access Signage, as appropriate.
- Include Hotel information sign for the Cliff House Inn.
The map below shows the area with the proposed coastal trail and coastal access points.
Background: Surfrider testified to CalTrans in 1994 following the fatality of a cyclist on Hwy 101, and at that time we unsuccessfully advocated for construction of a dedicated bike path on the landward side of the freeway, or at the very least a safety barrier for cyclists riding along the highway. The current situation shown here is obviously not safe, although hundreds of cyclists ride this section of highway every week.
The original plan after initial stakeholder meetings was for a bike path on the landward side of the freeway and railroad to provide a safe and fast thoroughfare for cyclists between old PCH at Mussel Shoals and Bates Road (Rincon). However, in subsequent (closed) meetings, the Coastal Commission had the bike path re-aligned on the beach side in order to realize the goal of constructing a section of the California Coastal Trail on the beach.
The current proposal is for a multi-use trail on the ocean side of the freeway, separated by steel fencing on both sides. The path is 10 feet wide, and is intended for pedestrians and other beach users as well as cyclists. (Although it has been suggested that cyclists would still have the option of using the highway shoulder, this will not be permitted when the 'highway' is re-designated as a 'freeway.' Serious cyclists, beware!)
- CORRECTION - Because of these concerns, CalTrans will make an exception and continue to allow cyclists to use the new freeway shoulder if they choose.
Coastal Access: The project will eliminate beach parking on a 1.2 mile segment of the emergency shoulder near La Conchita beach. Although Surfrider appealed this issue, CalTrans maintains that on-street parking is available in La Conchita, and a new parking lot at Punta Gorda will offset the loss.
For decades the community of La Conchita has been cut off from the beach by the highway. They have used a 4 ft high storm drain under the highway in order to access the beach. The plan calls for this accessway to be enlarged to 8ft x 8ft as shown below.
This will be a great asset to the La Conchita community, but once the new accessway is completed, this community will be impacted with beach parking on their streets. CalTrans did not pursue options to construct a new parking lot in or near this new coastal access point.
Coastal Structures: One of Surfrider's biggest concerns is the construction of coastal structures - history has proven that such engineering exacerbates coastal erosion and require constant long-term maintenance. (In the case of Surfers' Point in Ventura, the bike path was used to justify construction of a seawall - which ultimately led to the Managed Retreat project of today.)
This section of the coast highway is currently 'protected' with riprap. In order to provide beach access from the new bike path, the riprap will be removed or modified, and a new seawall will be constructed at the La Conchita Public Undercrossing:
The most recent drawings show that the beach access ramp will encroach onto the public beach, outside the CalTrans Right of Way.
At the Ventura County Board of Supervisors Hearing, these issues were brought up in response to Surfrider's appeal. The end result is that we have assurances that CalTrans will move the ramp off the public beach into their Right of Way, and add four additional coastal accessways from the bikeway to the beach. (We were concerned that surfers ending up down the coast from Rincon in huge surf would not be able to exit the beach to walk back)
Because of these additional concessions and the unlikelihood that there was anything further to gain, the Surfrider executive committee voted not to appeal the project to the Coastal Commission.
My opinion? Compromise is a good thing. But only history will tell whether this is a good project or not. When the 'new' freeway is stop-and-go with cars, waves are breaking over the seawall, and the beach has eroded away, only then may people wonder why there was no discussion of putting in a commuter rail line with the billion dollars used to widen the Ventura-Santa Barbara Hwy 101 in 2005-2015.
One thing always leads to another...
More info: CalTrans website: http://www.dot.ca.gov/dist07/travel/projects/details.php?id=28
In the News: http://www.vcstar.com/news/2010/sep/21/nxxfchighway22/