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13 Weeks of Snarling Ahead for Motorists : Traffic Jams as Downtown Face Lift Hits Streets

May 14, 1985|MARIA L. La GANGA | Times Staff Writer

After 10 days spent relaxing in central California, Irma Manthei wasn't prepared for her trip to work on Monday morning. Driving down 6th Avenue was no problem, she said, until she stopped at the C Street traffic light and didn't start moving again for another five minutes.

"I couldn't believe it," said Manthei, an information clerk for San Diego Transit. "My first day back to work, and it was a mess. It took me 10 minutes to drive three blocks when I got close to Broadway.

"Cars were blocking the intersection, the buses were late, and everyone was upset. They yelled at the drivers and blamed the transit district, and it wasn't even our fault."

What Manthei--one of 20,000 motorists who use Broadway every day--found out Monday morning was that San Diego redevelopment has hit the streets.

For the next 13 weeks, Broadway and a handful of connecting streets that surround the Horton Plaza construction site will be a congested snarl of late buses, impatient riders, angry motorists and sweating laborers racing to pave the boulevards with decorative brickwork before the shopping complex opens Aug. 9.

The ornamental pavement--a herringbone pattern of interlocking bricks and sand--was planned to give Broadway and 3rd and 4th avenues a kind of old-fashioned, European flavor, said Manuel Nieto, project manager for VTN Engineers, which is laying the bricks.

But San Diegans will be paying dearly for their city's face lift.

Broadway has been temporarily cut from four lanes to two. Since Friday, when the project was begun, buses on the heavily traveled street have been running late by as much as 30 minutes, transit officials said. On Monday morning, the big blue and white vehicles jammed together as many as seven deep at the intersection of 2nd Avenue and Broadway while waiting for the light to change.

"We're trying to get the streets surrounding the Horton Plaza Park completed by Aug. 9, when the mall is opened," Nieto said. "But there will be traffic conflicts until the opening of the mall. All the traffic will be real backed up."

While Manthei sat in her car waiting for traffic to move, Lauren Mingo was sitting in a bus doing exactly the same thing.

"This morning the buses were running about 20 minutes late," said Mingo, who takes the bus from her San Diego home to work in La Jolla.

Some bus passengers, however, didn't notice the extra time the Broadway repaving effort added to their trips to work.

"I wait a half an hour every day for my bus anyway," said Lawrence Johnson, who rides the bus to work every day from his Spring Valley home to Point Loma. "It's taking a little longer because these streets have all been merged. It's bad already; now it's going to be miserable."

According to city traffic engineer Harold Rosenberg, Broadway is one of the three busiest streets in downtown San Diego. "It is one of the key east/west arteries in the downtown area," Rosenberg said, "but it doesn't function very efficiently."

City engineers often consider "couplet streets"--two parallel one-way avenues that travel in opposite directions--as a single street in order to compute traffic volume. Rosenberg said that F and G streets carry about 27,000 motorists daily, while A and Ash streets together carry nearly 23,000. Every day, about 20,000 motorists and 40,000 bus passengers wend their way along Broadway between 12th Avenue and Pacific Highway. Eighteen of San Diego's 31 bus lines either cross or travel along Broadway.

By itself, the repaving project would slow such a heavy volume of traffic, but Rosenberg said that construction citywide is making the problem worse.

"Our problem is twofold," he said. "One, there aren't very many alternate routes available to Broadway, since B Street does not continue beyond 3rd Avenue because of the Community Concourse development. F Street has been closed to accommodate the Horton Plaza development west of 4th Avenue, and C Street has been reduced in its capacity by the San Diego Trolley.

"And then a second factor is the number of building and construction projects," he said. "An estimated 10 construction sites are working concurrently within the downtown core bounded by Pacific Highway, Market Street, 12th Avenue and Beech Street," and those sites also block traffic.

While downtown motorists spent most of Monday cursing the traffic, Rosenberg was holding emergency meetings with representatives of the Police Department, San Diego Transit and the Centre City Development Corp.

Together, these agencies came up with a plan: Starting this morning, cars on cross streets between 1st and 6th avenues will not be able to turn onto Broadway, and green signals on Broadway will be lengthened, Rosenberg said.

"If we continue to have congestion, or what we call 'gridlock' where nothing moves, we may have to implement a more severe traffic plan, prohibiting all vehicles except for buses from using Broadway between 7th Avenue and Columbia Street," he said.

As a result, Manthei may have to find another route to work for the next 13 weeks. But such a decision will make Dorothy Melton's trip to work from San Diego to La Jolla a little easier.

"The bus was late this morning," Melton said, "and I was surprised, because they usually keep such a good schedule. But if we want the city fixed up, this is what's going to happen. You pay the price for progress."

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