By Karen Billing
Rancho Santa Fe residents are welcome to weigh in on the proposal for three roundabouts on Paseo Delicias/Del Dios Highway. The San Diego County project’s draft environmental impact report began circulating on Dec. 10 and people have until Thursday, Feb. 28, to submit written public comment on the project that would create roundabouts at the highway’s intersections at Via de la Valle/La Fremontia, El Camino Del Norte and El Montevideo/La Valle Plateada.
The Rancho Santa Fe Association board is expected to discuss the item at one of its February meetings.
The DEIR studied three project alternatives as well as the roundabouts, including no build, signalized intersections and a combined roundabouts and stop sign alternative.
The County Board of Supervisors can select any of the project alternatives.
According to the studies, the signalized intersection alternative is the environmentally superior alternative because of its reduced impact on biological resources and less of an impact on traffic during the construction period.
The roundabouts would significantly impact biological resources during construction but per the report, all of those impacts can be mitigated to a level less than significant. Efforts can be made to not impact existing trees; construction can be time limited to lessen the impact on nesting birds; and impacts to .02 acres of coastal sage scrub will be mitigated by a restorative planting after construction.
The only significant and unmitigatable impacts of the roundabouts include the full and partial closures that would need to occur during construction, according to the report.
The DEIR states that traffic control plans need to be developed, access to all local residents and commercial sites must be maintained, and property owners and residents must be given ample warning about when the construction will begin. During the morning peak hour, one lane must remain open in each direction and during the remainder of the day only one lane will be open with flaggers allowing one direction of traffic to move through.
Roundabout construction is expected to last approximately 12 to 18 months.
According to the DEIR, all three intersections would see improvement in traffic operations at peak hours. Currently, the configurations result in long queues that spill onto other local streets. During the late afternoon commute, people find it very difficult to squeeze into the flow of traffic.
Russell Stovitz, a new resident in Rancho Santa Fe, said not only does the current configuration not work during rush hour, it’s even more dangerous at night.
Stovitz said the roundabouts seem like a good compromise to control traffic and promote safety while still maintaining the character of Rancho Santa Fe.
In a recent letter to the RSF Review, resident Wei Zhang said it’s important to maintain the rural character but as more young families move into the Ranch, safety should be the most important issue.
“Unless we can be assured that roundabouts can be much safer than the traffic lights for the residents who have to navigate in and out of the houses along Paseo Delicias perhaps we should consider saving the money and simply install traffic lights instead,” Zhang wrote.
The report says roundabouts would reduce queue lengths and local street traffic because of the additional capacity on the Paseo Delicias corridor. Travel time delays within the corridor would decrease and traffic flow and average speed would improve.
The design of the roundabouts seeks to fit in with the current character of the intersections by limiting “urban-type improvements,” maintaining the width and number of lanes, and using “unobtrusive” lighting features and landscaping that is consistent with the surrounding area, according to the report.
The biggest changes will be seen at the Via de la Valle roundabout, which involves the closure of the western intersection of La Fremontia to convert it to a cul-de-sac.
A landscaped berm would be constructed between the La Fremontia cul-de-sac and the roundabout. The southwest and southeast corners at the intersection of Paseo Delicias would be widened to accommodate the roundabout and for the realigned equestrian trail that would follow along the southeast side of the intersection.
Also, the intersection of Las Colinas with Via de la Valle would be realigned to the south to intersect Via de la Valle at a right angle. A left-turn pocket into Las Colinas would also be constructed.
Two private driveways on Las Colinas would be lengthened to connect with the realigned roadway. West of the roundabout, the eastern access to a circular driveway at a private residence on the south side of Paseo Delicias would be closed. Access to the residence would be maintained via the western leg of the driveway.
Jean Hart Stewart, who has lived in her La Fremontia home for 27 years, spent a day reviewing the DEIR last week.
“There’s a lot of things I don’t like about it,” said Hart Stewart of the Via de la Valle roundabout. “My main problem is I don’t see how I’m ever going to get into and out of my driveway because it’s so close to the roundabout.”
She said when she’s coming in from town, she’s usually able to get into her street from someone being “nice” and letting her in. But getting out is usually difficult and she doesn’t see how the roundabout will make it any better.
“I’m also worried about the church parking lot, they’re going to lose so much parking,” Hart Stewart said.
Losing the lot will force people to park on the adjacent streets, which she said she doesn’t mind but she is concerned about older congregation members who may not be able to walk that far.
“The church is going to take a real slam I think,” Hart Stewart said. “They’re not taking any of my property but they’re just going to make me stay home.”
The approximate right-of-ways needed for the project are .34 acres at Via de la Valle/La Fremontia; 0.17 acre at El Montevideo/La Valle Plateada; and .04 acre at El Camino del Norte for a total of 0.55 acre.
Like the Via de la Valle roundabout, El Camino del Norte will also be a three-way intersection. The roadway would need to be widened on the northwest and northeast corners and road-grade retaining walls would be constructed on the south side of Paseo Delicias and the east side of El Camino del Norte.
North of the El Camino del Norte intersection on the west side of the road there are two residential driveways that would be affected by the roundabout. These driveways would be combined with a frontage road that would connect with El Camino del Norte farther north.
The El Montevideo/La Valle Plateada roundabout would be the only four-way roundabout. To avoid sensitive cultural resources, the intersection would be widened and shifted slightly in a northeasterly direction. This intersection would undergo a minor elevation increase to meet safety requirements for roundabout design. No widening would be required at the southwest side of the intersection.
At the Via de la Valle and El Montevideo intersections, existing bus stops would be relocated to match the alignment of the roundabout. The relocated bus stops would include shelters and bus pullouts.
Approximately 500-feet from the intersections, yield-ahead signs would be placed to alert drivers and diagrammatic “circular intersection” symbol-signs would be located approximately 300-feet from the intersections.
Combination pedestrian/equestrian crossings would be marked in the pavement and pedestrian and equestrian height push-button controls would activate in-pavement lighting and above-ground flashing beacon at the crosswalks. The in-pavement lighting is shielded so it only shines out to vehicles.
The equestrian height push-button control would also activate advance flashing warning signs located between 400 and 500 feet from the crossings at each leg of the intersection.
Lighting fixtures would be installed to illuminate the roundabouts only for safety. The Association worked with the county on the lighting fixtures so that they be discreet and in character with Rancho Santa Fe’s rural history. The fixtures won’t exceed 15 feet in height and will be dark earth-toned or black.
New landscaping would be installed at each of the roundabouts, designed in coordination with the Association.
The DEIR can be reviewed online at http://www.sdcounty.ca.gov/dpw/environment/envrnsvcs.html
It is also available in hard copy form at the Rancho Santa Fe Library. Written comments can be submitted to Gail Jurgella by mail at 5510 Overland Avenue, Suite 410, Mail Stop O-385, San Diego, CA 92123; by e-mail at Gail.Jurgella@sdcounty.ca.gov; or by fax at (858) 694-3925. Comments must be received by 4 p.m. on Feb. 28.