Federal demand may slow road project
Federal demand may slow road project
October 15, 2005NC Times
TEMECULA ---- City officials are eager to get Pechanga Parkway widened and thought they were ready to go, but a new federal requirement might delay the project. So now city officials are considering passing on a $4 million federal highway grant to get it done without further delay.
The project entails widening the road from Highway 79 South to Via Gilberto from four to six lanes and expanding it from two to four lanes from Via Gilberto to Deer Hollow Way, to accommodate traffic from the 2,000-home Wolf Creek development. The road is already four lanes to Wolf Creek but the lanes are squeezed into about 60 feet. The widening would expand that space to about 100 feet and add a median, principal engineer Amer Attar said recently.
The developer of Wolf Creek, Standard Pacific Corp. is widening the road through a community facilities district, which levies a tax on homeowners in new housing developments to pay for public improvements. The project will be funded by the district, the developer and the $4 million federal grant, if it is pursued, Attar said. The Pechanga Band of Luiseno Indians also contributed $4.4 million.
The city has been working for the past 1 1/2 years on traffic studies and environmental analyses for the project to comply with state and federal standards, Public Works Director Bill Hughes said. Now the Federal Highway Administration wants its own traffic-noise study, which could affect a soundwall that is in the process of being built.
It could also increase the cost of the project and delay it because the city can't start to widen the road until it gets federal authorization, which is based on the environmental analysis being completely done, Attar said. The study itself could take six to eight weeks, and whatever changes come out could delay it even further, he added.
City officials were hoping to solicit bids for the project this fall. Now they are considering whether there's any merit to doing the additional study and exploring if they would have to tear down the wall and start over. The federal government has designated $4 million for the project, but hasn't given final authorization for the funding ---- the last step for reimbursement for the expenditure.
"It would cost us an enormous amount of time to do everything," Hughes said. "And if that cost exceeds the money we're getting, we basically are not getting any financial benefit from getting the federal grant."
If city officials decide to forgo the grant altogether, it would shift the financial burden to Standard Pacific, Hughes said. Widening the road was part of the development agreement the city made with the original developer, S-P Murdy, when the Wolf Creek project was approved in 2001. Standard Pacific would either have to pay the $4 million that the grant would have provided or do the additional study and adjust the soundwall accordingly, Hughes said.
Adam Smith, a project manager with Standard Pacific, said he couldn't comment on the issue because the company is still in the midst of trying to resolve the situation with the city.
When the Wolf Creek specific plan was being crafted, sound studies were conducted, Hughes said. As a result, about eight months ago Standard Pacific started building a six-foot high wall that will ultimately stretch from Loma Linda Drive to around Deer Hollow, Attar said.
But that height might not be good enough for the Highway Administration, which requires its own traffic-noise analysis for projects to receive grants, a spokeswoman said. With the city chafing under this requirement, administration officials are working with the city to see if any information from the original study can be incorporated into a new analysis, the spokeswoman said. Federal standards require that noise barriers provide a five-decibel reduction in sound, she said.
If the city goes through with the grant process, and the wall height has to be increased, it might have to be rebuilt completely, because the footings of the wall are based on the height, Attar said. With so many unknowns, and the likelihood of the cost of the project increasing, city officials are frustrated, Hughes said.
"We felt there was originally value in obtaining this grant," he said. "At this point, it's already delayed us considerably. Now, at the point of doing additional studies, which could evolve into additional review and evolve into further studies, and the uncertainty of when we could start construction, that is a big concern as well."
Contact staff writer Deirdre Newman at (951) 676-4315, Ext. 2623, or email@example.com.