By Brian Park
A group of residents took to the podium during Tuesday night’s meeting of the San Juan Capistrano City Council to object the Chamber of Commerce’s suggestion to temporarily open the El Horno Street undercrossing during construction of the Ortega Highway/Interstate 5 interchange.
Those who spoke out—eight in all with others in the crowd holding signs in protest—indicated they all lived on or near El Horno Street, located in the city’s second oldest residential neighborhood, Mission Flats.
“We’re all going to go through an ugly situation,” Tom Entwistle said. “Temporarily opening up that street, the possibility of it staying open, it’s just going to have a huge negative impact.”
“While we appreciate the concerns regarding the east-west access during this period, this suggestion is not a viable solution,” said Orrie Brown, who also presented the council with a petition signed by 100 residents protesting against opening the undercrossing.
In a letter addressed to the City Council on February 7, Mark Bodenhamer, president and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce, asked the city to consider temporarily opening the residential street to alleviate the east-west traffic flow during the two-year long Ortega Highway/I-5 project. Construction was slated to begin early Tuesday but has been delayed due to rain.
Currently, the undercrossing is closed to regular traffic and is only opened for emergency vehicle access and special occasions, according to Cathy Salcedo, the city’s executive services manager. Salcedo also said, in its current state, the roadway is not wide enough to handle two-way traffic.
“We recognize there are new issues that would arise from opening El Horno,” Bodenhamer said. “The preservation of the unique ‘feel’ of this neighborhood and the safety of the residents (particularly the children) are important factors that should be considered as part of this discussion.”
The Mission Flats neighborhood also includes the San Juan Capistrano Public Library, San Juan Elementary, Junipero Serra High School, as well as the Chamber of Commerce’s office on La Matanza Street. Many homes in the area do not have driveways or adequate frontage to allow for parking, forcing many homeowners to park their cars on the street. With existing traffic from the schools, churches and weekend visitors to the Mission, residents said opening the undercrossing would compound matters and create safety hazards.
“I know that it looks like a good idea, as far as the interchange improvement project, but for it to be in front of my front door every single day, I just can’t imagine being able to pull out,” Stacie Frederick said.
“Mission Flats is impacted as it is,” Paul McHugh said. “Many days it’s bumper to bumper … If you were to add traffic, especially on the weekends with the tourists, you’d have a parking lot.”
Council members were unable to comment on the item because it was not on the agenda, but residents still implored them to reject the Chamber’s request.
Currently, Junipero Serra Road to the north and San Juan Creek Road to the south serve as the city’s two major alternate routes for east-west traffic. Caltrans, which is spearheading the $86.2 million project, will also establish several detour signs to direct traffic during the course of construction.
“The residents have had enough. We ask you to respect our peace,” Patrick Crowley said.
Opening the undercrossing was also mentioned as a traffic solution during last Wednesday’s meeting of the Capistrano Unified School District. For now, the district will look into several alternatives, including increasing the presence of sheriff’s deputies and starting a shuttle service.