To San Juan Capistrano officials, repair delays that have kept a stretch of Camino Capistrano closed for nearly four years are a major headache. For residents, the road closure caused by El Nino rains in 1998 is a minor inconvenience.
But to Ron Shearer and Dave Velton, whose used car lot sits a few hundred yards north of the crumbled roadway, the wait has been an "absolute nightmare."
The latest delay--a Caltrans order for further environmental study of the slope supporting the road--means the road won't reopen until summer, at the earliest.
"That's the latest excuse," said Velton, who blames the road closure for a 40% drop in business at Capistrano Car Co. over the last 3 1/2 years. "When does this thing stop?"
Camino Capistrano has the distinction of being the last road in Orange County still closed as a result of the storms. The road, which links San Juan Capistrano and Laguna Niguel, parallels the San Diego Freeway and hugs the railroad tracks and Oso Creek.
In February 1998, the area became saturated after a series of pounding storms caused a slide and damaged the railroad tracks and the slope supporting the road. Within 24 hours, the tracks were stabilized. But the damaged road, which sits just within the San Juan Capistrano city limits, had a different fate.
Everything from stabilizing the ground under the road to making sure the nearby creek wasn't harmed has taken much longer than estimated.
"The road is dependent upon the integrity of the base below it," said Steve Wylie, an administrator with the Orange County Transportation Authority. "It didn't make any sense to open the road again so it could collapse again."
The slope work alone took three years.
Once the city was finally given permission to begin its design, it was determined that additional archeological and biological surveys were needed. These studies are expected to take 10 weeks, with an additional seven weeks for review. The California Department of Transportation still must approve the project.
So far, the city has spent $50,000 on design and environmental tests.
"It's been very frustrating," said William Huber, the city engineer for San Juan Capistrano.
But Huber wonders how many people the closure is really affecting. "The road does not have a high volume of traffic," he said. "And there are other accesses to those businesses."
That is little consolation to businesses along the barricaded road, which motorists still try to use as a shortcut when the freeway is jammed, only to discover it's a four-lane road to nowhere.
The owners of Buffy's Family Restaurant, which closed last summer after years of serving meals to truck drivers, blamed the closure for its demise.
Shearer and Velton said they would have gone under too if not for the presence of a hamburger stand next door. "We get a lot of their customers," said Shearer, whose business also took a bruising during construction of the nearby toll road and more recently, from the flagging economy.
"But we don't get hardly any business from the south any more. On Saturdays, sometimes we'll be lucky to see three customers."
Shearer and his partners say they will stick it out until the road is put back together.