Following an emotional, six-hour public hearing, the City Council early Wednesday voted, 3 to 2, to erect a $3-million overpass for Yale Avenue at the Santa Fe Railroad tracks in central Irvine.
The council, however, delayed until January a decision on a second vehicular overpass for Yale Avenue at the San Diego Freeway to study the project's safety and traffic impacts on the villages of Woodbridge and University Park. The two neighborhoods are separated by Interstate 405 on the city's south side.
One Continuous Road
Construction of the two overpasses would make Yale one continuous north-south roadway, running through seven villages from Northwood south to University Park.
Proponents contend that the plan would ease traffic on Culver Drive and Jeffrey Road because motorists would have a third north-south alternative to travel through the city's residential core.
Opponents, however, warn that an improved Yale would mean more traffic, noise and pollution in the tidy neighborhoods of stucco, brick and wood-shingled homes. They said Wednesday that they may fight the City Council decision.
Charles Dreyfuss, founder and president of CAUTION--Citizens Against Unsafe Traffic in Our Neighborhoods, said his group planned to meet and discuss what to do next.
"We were shocked," said Dreyfuss, who gathered more than 3,200 signatures against the project. Many in the crowd of 700 people at Tuesday's meeting wore bright yellow stickers shaped like street signs and imprinted with CAUTION. "We walked out of there in a daze. . . . I can't believe they turned a deaf ear to us."
Dreyfuss said his group's own private traffic survey shows that the city has "grossly" underestimated the number of cars that would use Yale if the overpasses are built. For example, city planners say 10,000 vehicles a day would use the Yale overpass at the railroad tracks.
But, Dreyfuss said, based on the number of cars using a similar overpass on Yale at the Santa Ana Freeway, that at least 13,000 vehicles a day would use the railroad overcrossing.
Councilman Ray Catalano cast the decisive vote at 12:30 Wednesday morning, siding with council members C. David Baker and Sally Anne Miller to approve the Yale overpass for the railroad south of Walnut Avenue.
Construction on the overpass could begin as early as next spring, Assistant City Manager Paul Brady Jr. said.
The same three council members voted to postpone a decision on the 405 overcrossing pending further review and the completion of a traffic study on Michelson Drive, a major east-west roadway that runs from the Fluor Corp. and the heavily developed business parks near John Wayne Airport into University Park.
Mayor Larry Agran and Councilman Ed Dornan sought to kill both overpasses by deleting them from the city's General Plan.
Agran accused the Irvine Co. of privately pushing the completion of Yale to reduce traffic on Culver and Jeffrey and improve chances of city approval for future development in Irvine.
Culver is nearing capacity, carrying 41,000 and 42,000 vehicles a day. An estimated 27,000 to 28,000 vehicles travel Jeffrey daily. Any new development along those roads would likely add to already congested conditions, so Agran believes that the Irvine Co. has backed the completion of Yale as one solution to the city's worsening traffic picture.
"The Irvine Co. is trying to buy additional road capacity to build more homes . . . ," said Agran, who, along with Dornan, was unsuccessful in derailing the project in July.
An Irvine Co. spokeswoman said the firm supports the Yale plan because "it is an integral part of the city's general circulation plan." She denied that the company's position is part of a larger scheme to build more homes.
"In terms of traffic capacity (on Culver and Jeffrey) this is marginal," spokeswoman Judith Frutig said.
The completion of Yale would reduce traffic on both streets by a combined total of 3,000 to 4,000 cars a day, according to city planners.
In his rare break with Agran and Dornan, Catalano said there is a greater safety danger if the railroad overpass on Yale is not built. Catalano, a professor of urban planning at UC Irvine, said the overcrossing would improve access into central city neighborhoods and ease congestion on many of the narrow, winding streets near the railroad tracks.
Describing his vote as one of the most difficult in his two years on the council, Catalano said the overpass "had been long planned" and "has a communitywide benefit . . . that must be considered."
Much of the debate could have been avoided if the city had built the overpasses before the homes, Miller said.
Now, she added, the city has pitted "village against village, neighbor against neighbor."
Currently, overcrossings on Yale for pedestrians and bicyclists exist at the railroad tracks and San Diego Freeway. The city has proposed widening the pedestrian walkway over the freeway to accommodate vehicles. The estimated cost of the project is $1.5 million.