SAN DIEGUITO — Residents of this burgeoning region have tried mightily to ignore the subdivisions and shopping centers springing up all across a still mostly rural landscape.
In Rancho Santa Fe, where growth is a dirty word, villagers have persistently fought county planners' attempts to widen quaint, rural streets into roads to service a growing population. "They keep proposing nice wide straight roads right though the center of the Ranch," one longtime Rancho Santa Fe resident said. "We keep bending them so they run around us, outside our boundaries, and raise hell in somebody else's backyard. And, we have the clout to keep them out."
But transportation planners say the locals won't be able to afford the luxury of their twisting roads much longer; nor will they--despite their calls for slow growth--be able to avoid the consequences of a crush of traffic that threatens to turn San Dieguito into a maze of clogged roadways and frustrated drivers.
Even under the most ambitious of road construction programs, traffic bottlenecks will be part of life in San Dieguito--an unincorporated area between Carlsbad and Vista on the north, and Del Mar and San Diego on the south--into the next century, even on roads, planned but not yet built, that are designed to help alleviate the crush.
That, at least, is the conclusion of a new county computer study of the area that projects traffic counts into the year 2005. The data upon which the traffic counts is based includes future housing tracts, shopping centers and industrial parks that already are approved by the county, or soon will be. The growth will not go away.
Some merchants complain that traffic congestion is already out of control. One businessman along Encinitas Boulevard said that, despite a roadside location on the busy highway, "the people won't turn in because they know that they'll never get back out of the parking lot into traffic. I've waited up to 20 minutes to get out with my delivery van."
He recently learned that the county Planning Commission approved zoning that will add 15,000 cars a day to the thickening stream.
Bill Hoeben, the senior civil engineer in charge of the county's regional transportation plan update, admits that he can't erase all of the red and orange lines (the colors for crowded roads) on his 2005 map no matter how he juggles the traffic.
The region's bucolic two-lane roads will be choked with traffic long before the next century arrives because of developments in La Jolla Valley and Ralphs Ranch to the east and the continuing growth within the San Dieguito communities of Leucadia, Olivenhain, Encinitas, Cardiff, Rancho Santa Fe and Solana Beach.
Red lines on Hoeben's charts indicate Level F, the worst road conditions. That means traffic greater than road capacity, slow travel because of congestion and periodic stoppages. Orange lines, Level E, indicate only slightly less disagreeable driving conditions, with traffic grinding to a halt at peak commuting hours.
If San Dieguito's present road system were asked to carry the traffic loads of the 21st Century, almost every highway and byway in the area would be colored red or orange.
In Hoeben's most ambitious road-building plan, one he expects to offer as part of a county general plan amendment next fall, many of the two-lane roads in San Dieguito would become four lanes; some would be expanded to six lanes, and new highways would be added.
Route 680, for instance, now meanders as a two-lane road named El Camino del Norte from Del Dios Highway near Rancho Santa Fe westward to a spot near Leucadia. By 2005, it would be four to six lanes wide from Interstate 5 to Interstate 15, but still would not be wide enough to carry the traffic that a through east-west highway would attract. Traffic estimates for Route 680 by the year 2005 average 43,000 cars a day. Color it red.
By 2005, Manchester Avenue on the north edge of the San Elijo Lagoon in Cardiff must be upgraded to a four-lane road with a median divider to handle the traffic between El Camino Real and I-5, in addition to the expected traffic from a planned second campus of MiraCosta Community College. Some traffic engineers are unsure that a road that size will handle the traffic headaches of the next 20 years.
One needed road improvement that county transportation planners predict will raise a political ruckus is a proposed widening of Paseo Delicias on the eastern edges of Rancho Santa Fe. The wealthy estate community has fought road-widening projects in or near its boundaries. This proposed improvement--from a two-lane country road to a four-lane highway east to Escondido--strikes a discordant note and threatens many of the trees along the community's main stem. Color Rancho Santa Fe livid.
Traffic engineers also are proposing widening of La Bajada, a very narrow two-lane road that fords a stream, to a four-lane "collector" road connecting Rancho Santa Fe with Encinitas Boulevard to the west.