RANCHO SANTA FE — The search for funding to build three new roundabouts in Rancho Santa Fe has begun.
Following the San Diego County Board of Supervisor’s certification of the draft Environmental Impact Report (EIR) last week, the county is moving forward with the traffic project meant to help alleviate extensive congestion along a stretch of Del Dios Highway.
The county will also continue to negotiate with the Rancho Santa Fe Community Services District (RSFCSD) and the Rancho Santa Fe Association to fund the maintenance of landscaping and lighting at the three roundabouts on county-maintained roads.
There is no timeline for the project to begin until funding is secured, according to Alex Bell, a county communications officer.
The roundabouts will be constructed at three intersections: Via de la Valle/La Fremontia, El Montevideo/La Valle Plateada and El Camino del Norte/Del Dios Highway — which are currently controlled by four-way stop signs and notorious for traffic backups.
Cost for the construction of the three roundabouts is estimated at approximately $6 million and will take about 12 to 18 months to complete, Bell said.
The county will be seeking grants to help pay for the costs.
“It might qualify for the grant funding under the Active Transportation Program, the Highway Safety Improvement Program and future Federal Highway Administration and State Transportation grants,” Bell said.
County Supervisor Bill Horn, whose district oversees Rancho Santa Fe, said the roundabouts project is a tremendous solution. “It helps the traffic to move,” he added.
Horn made a motion to certify the EIR at the meeting on Oct. 19, with Supervisor Dave Roberts seconding the motion.
“This truly is not only an aesthetically good idea, it’s an environmentally good idea,” Roberts said of the roundabouts.
The Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to certify the final EIR and documents for the project.
According to a staff presentation from Chris Hanger with the Department of Public Works, the Rancho Santa Fe Association and the San Dieguito Planning Group believed the roundabouts were the best possible solution to the traffic congestion issue, as opposed to traffic lights.
“Signalized intersections were not chosen as the preferred solution because there are currently no signalized intersections within the California landmark of historic Rancho Santa Fe,” Hanger said.
During the meeting, two Rancho Santa Fe residents spoke out against the project.
Daniel Bunn, a Ranch resident opposed the certification of the EIR, and referred to a second traffic study that contrasted the findings of the county’s draft report.
“No one wants to make a very important decision, or mistake based on incomplete or erroneous information,” Bunn said.
He said the software used for the county’s traffic analysis was outdated and yielded a level of service not consistent with a traffic study done with newer software.
However, a county employee familiar with the traffic analysis said the county did run the data using their updated software, which showed the roundabouts project would provide a successful level of service.
Sam Ursini, who also lives in the Ranch and said he’s been studying project for the past 14 years, described it as a sporting event where there are going to be winners and losers.
“There are thousands of vehicles that transgress through Del Dios corridor,” he said. “Those thousands and thousands of people are not represented. What is represented is a small community in Rancho Santa Fe.”
Ursini described Del Dios Highway as a major thoroughfare connecting the east to the west and said the roundabouts theory was flawed. Instead, Ursini said signals would provide a very satisfactory level of service.
Three spoke in favor of the roundabouts including Kent Lemarie, Laurel Lemarie, member of the San Dieguito Planning Group and Christy Whalen, interim manager of the Rancho Santa Fe Association.
The roundabouts are being constructed under the Federal Highway Administration guidelines. Vehicle speeds would be lowered to 25 miles per hour through the roundabout transitions and crosswalks with lighted signals would be installed.
Gail Getz, also with the county’s Department of Public Works, said the final landscaping plans would be developed with the help of the community’s input and then finalized by the Department of Public Works.
Lighting and landscaping would be in keeping with the community’s character.
Since the proposed lighting would be non-standard, the county is seeking to enter into a Memorandum of Understanding with the Rancho Santa Fe Association and RSFCSD to fund the features.
With construction estimated to be a year or more, Getz said the area would be affected by the project, including temporary, intermittent full and partial closures of the three intersections, resulting in a temporary significant impact on surrounding roadways and intersections.
“This is a rural area and there is no easy way to re-route traffic during construction,” Getz said. “To minimize the temporary impact to the extent feasible, a formal traffic control and detour plan would be implemented with signage, flagging, noticing and access.”
A temporary detour road at the El Montevideo intersection was an option for further traffic mitigation during construction, but ultimately considered unfeasible, as it would have resulted in additional landscaping and use of private property.
The initial traffic congestion-easing project began back in 2002. In 2004, the Rancho Santa Fe Association and the county co-funded a roundabout feasibility study. An EIR on the project, including other traffic options was suggested in 2007, according to the county’s report.
In December of 2012, a draft EIR was recirculated. The project went through another set of delays in 2013-14. But in November of last year, the Rancho Santa Fe Association submitted a letter to the county requesting that roundabouts be the solution.
The draft EIR was updated and a final report was filed later in 2015-16.
According to Bell, the certification of the EIR would remain valid for the project studied in the report.
“However, if substantial changes to either the project or the circumstances occur, which result in new significant effects or a substantial increase in the severity, then those issues would need to be addressed with either an addendum to the EIR or a supplemental EIR. Only the new issues would need to be addressed as the final EIR would still be valid for any other issues.”