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San Juan Chamber Asks City Council to Temporarily Open El Horno Street During Construction

In a letter to the San Juan Capistrano City Council, the San Juan Chamber of Commerce requests that the El Horno Street undercrossing be temporarily opened during the I-5/Ortega Highway interchange construction project.  With a little pat on the back, we want to remind our readers that we suggested the exact same thing in a January 21, 2013 article appropriately titled “Caltrans and the City of San Juan Capistrano Should Temporarily Connect El Horno Street to Rancho Viejo Road.“  We are pleased that the idea has gained enough traction to warrant discussion at the City Council.  The Patch has the story, and we’ve reprinted the letter below:

Mayor Taylor & Members of the Council,

On behalf of the San Juan Capistrano Chamber of Commerce’s Board of Directors, I am writing to urge the city of San Juan Capistrano to consider the temporary opening of the El Horno Street undercrossing for vehicle traffic during the Ortega Highway reconstruction project.

Until its completion, this project will have tremendous negative impacts on our residents and businesses throughout its multiyear planned timeline. Even now, prior to the project, traffic is always at the top of many residents’ list of most pressing issues facing our city. Traffic not only diminishes the quality of life of residents, it also impedes economic activity and can impact public safety by extending response times.

Simply put, El Horno Street is the only realistic alternative we have to alleviate the east-west connection shortage that will be caused by this project. We believe it is important that the city of San Juan Capistrano take steps to evaluate using the El Horno undercrossing for vehicle traffic during this time period.

We recognize there are new issues that would arise from opening El Horno. The adjacent neighborhood is home to many residences, the Scout Hut, children’s programs at the Lacouague Building, etc. The preservation of the unique “feel” of this neighborhood and the safety of the residents (particularly the children) are important factors that should be considered as part of this discussion.

However, it is because of these concerns that we suggest action now. At this relatively early stage, we have time to work collaboratively with the residents and other stakeholders who would be directly impacted by such a change. It is our hope that with everyone’s input, a mutually agreeable plan can be enacted that would reduce construction-related traffic issues and address those safety concerns. For example, the city might consider restricting access to La Matanza and La Calera and/or utilizing some kind of speed impediments along the route.

I would like to specifically note that our suggestion for the use of El Horno Street is temporary and confined to the construction period. We recommend that any action taken by the city includes a plan for El Horno Street’s re-closure upon the completion of this project’s primary traffic impacts.

Thank you for your consideration.

Mark Bodenhamer

President/CEO, San Juan Capistrano Chamber of Commerce

It’s one thing for a semi-anonymous blog like ours with no real accountability to make proposals like this.  It’s a whole other thing when serious people with serious responsibilities, like the Chamber of Commerce and the City Council, pick up the discussion.  So for that we applaud Mr. Bodenhamer and the Chamber for taking a brave, reasoned stance on the issue and we encourage the City Council to seriously consider the proposal.  Opening El Horno is a politically unpopular idea with residents in the affected area (and others who feel that El Horno is inappropriate for through-traffic) and for valid reasons as we noted in our prior article.  We emphasize that the Chamber’s proposal is only for a temporary opening with a plan for re-closure upon completion of the I-5/Ortega construction project.  Our proposal had the same condition attached — that the opening be a temporary one.  It is important that the residents who will be asked to sacrifice for the greater good of San Juan have adequate assurance that this is not a slippery slope resulting in a permanent opening of El Horno.  In the absence of the I-5/Ortega Highway interchange project, there would be no need to open El Horno.  Further, once the Ortega bridge is widened and the new Del Obispo alignment is complete, using El Horno has a throughway becomes even less necessary than it is now, pre-construction.

That being said, the City Council must ask themselves whether they’ve done everything within their power to mitigate the impacts of the I-5/Ortega construction project.  If opening El Horno is feasible, we owe it to ourselves to consider it.  Temporarily.

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