Highway 101 project expected to be completed by early June

By Joe Tash

A major renovation project along Highway 101 in Solana Beach, which has drawn complaints from business owners because of restricted access for their customers, is expected to be completed by early June rather than in the fall of 2013 as originally projected, city officials and the project’s general contractor said at a workshop meeting held on Monday, Dec. 17.

About 14 people attended Monday morning’s meeting at City Hall, where contractor Glen Bullock, City Manager David Ott and the city’s director of engineering and public works, Mohammad Sammak, answered questions and gave updates about the renovation project, which has been underway since summer.

Also in attendance were Mayor Mike Nichols and Councilwoman Lesa Heebner.

“Unless we get a tsunami this year, I’m committed before the Del Mar Fair… to have substantial completion,” of the project, said Bullock, of general contractor DMI. He said crews may be working on some minor touches after the fair opens, such as installing a bench or tree, but major work is expected to be completed, with roads and parking areas open.

The project includes new storm drains, along with a series of improvements intended to upgrade the appearance of the 101 corridor between Cliff and Dahlia streets, including new sidewalks, decorative lighting, street furniture, landscaping and a series of 11 meeting spaces with public art. Construction will cost $7 million, plus about $500,000 for design and engineering, and about $7 million in interest on bonds sold to finance the work.

Along with sprucing up the appearance of the corridor, the project is intended to slow down traffic, enticing motorists to stop at restaurants and shops, said Nichols. Parking along street will also be increased, and pedestrian crosswalks will be added, improving access from residential neighborhoods on the east side of Highway 101.

City Manager David Ott said the work is progressing more quickly due to a number of factors, such as overlapping some of the phases of the project so they can proceed simultaneously, doing some construction work at night, and some technical changes that have speeded up construction.

Most of the work is taking place on the west side of Highway 101. Currently, construction work along the project area has eliminated parking on much of the west side of the road, and customers have to park on the side or rear of businesses. Signs and orange cones direct motorists to areas that cross the construction area.

Soon, crews will begin installing curbs, new sidewalks and pavement along the road, said Sammak. The sidewalks will be done in six segments, and businesses will get at least one week’s notice before work on their section begins, he said.

“But there will be access to every single business” during the construction, he said.

Sue Kelly, who owns an interior decorating business and a dress boutique in the same building along the 101 corridor, asked whether the city is making plans to have a grand opening once the work is complete. She said some businesses have suffered a steep loss of business since the work began.

“Whether we can all survive until this is done, who knows?” she said.

Ott said the city has been working with the Solana Beach Chamber of Commerce on promoting the benefits of the renovation project, and would be “very happy to work with business and property owners.”

The city has also relaxed its sign regulations and eliminated permit fees for banners and A-frame signs for businesses in the project area, so merchants can let potential customers know they are open during construction, Ott said.

City officials stressed that once the work is completed, the 101 corridor will be transformed into a much more pleasing attraction for pedestrians, bicyclists and motorists, which in turn should stimulate the local economy.

“I think it’s going to look great. We don’t want to hurt the businesses. We want you guys to be successful,” said Nichols.

After the meeting, Kelly said business at her dress boutique is down by 50 percent, and the Christmas shopping season has been a bust. She and other merchants at the meeting urged the city to do more to let people know about the project, and encourage residents to support local businesses during construction. But she also said the project should give a big boost to the area’s economic prospects once it’s finished.

“It’s a huge step in a positive way for 101 to get on the map,” she said.