San Juan Capistrano

                                                                                   Editorial Opinion

                                                                      The Ortega Widening 

Our goal in the CCS is to report on issues that raise awareness and hopefully stimulate discussion - and action when necessary - about what is happening in your backyard. One of these issues is the widening of goal to widen Ortega Highway.
Although we have known for some time about studies describing the ultimate goal to widen it to six lanes, we opted not to report on it as it was listed as a long-range plan and presumably would not happen any time soon. A red flag was raised recently however, when a county official reportedly asked a local official when “we” are going to get Ortega widened to six lanes. 

In a recent guest column (March 27 Capistrano Dispatch), Councilman Allevato claimed that it would be nearly impossible to widen to six lanes for several reasons.
One reason he gave is that it would be “physically impossible” to “cantilever” the road over existing structures. We are unsure where he comes up with his idea of “cantilevering”, but there are many examples of roads that have been turned into freeways. One example is Newport Boulevard in Costa Mesa.    

Another reason he offers might have merit – if it were factually correct which, it appears, it is not. That is that the presence of historic structures on Ortega Highway would prevent widening in those areas if the road were widened to six lanes.

The first question we asked ourselves was “Can historic structures be relocated?” According to the National Park Service, the entity that oversees historic sites and structures, the short answer is, yes, especially if the structure(s) did not receive federal funding for renovation, improvements, etc. If federal funding was used however, they can still be moved provided they fall within certain criteria* listed below:

“Proposals for moving historic structures will consider the effects of movement on the structures,
their present environments, their proposed environments, and the archeological research value of
the structures and their sites. No historic structure will be moved if its preservation would be
adversely affected...

A historic structure of less-than-national significance may be moved if:

• it cannot practically be preserved on its present site; or

• its present location is not important to its significance, and its relocation is essential to public understanding of the park’s cultural associations.”

In fact, the historic Los Rios District has a number of historic homes that were moved there from other locations.

Historic structures can also be removed from the National Register of Historic Places through a petition process. It would be a shame to lose any of these historic structures in order to facilitate traffic from massive development to the east. We at the CCS advocate for maintaining these historic structures in their present location and we hope that the councilman does too. But for Councilman Allevato to suggest that it cannot be done because the structures are historic is simply not accurate according to documentation we have reviewed.

Councilman Allevato states that he does not support widening to six lanes, but does support widening from two to four lanes to eliminate the “chokepoint” on Ortega. This is of concern as “chokepoints” are used as justification to widen roads. Ortega is already six lanes from Rancho Viejo to the freeway, and on the other end at Ortega and Antonio/La Pata. The new interchange being constructed at the entrance to our historic downtown is in our opinion, an example of what can happen when powerful business interests push to accommodate more development.

So, while Councilman Allevato claims the plan to widen to six lanes has been shelved, what is to stop it from being resurrected once the traffic from the Ranch development clogs the four-lane road? Nothing it seems, except maybe the will of the people. 

That’s why we are bringing this issue to your attention. If as he claims, Councilman Allevato is truly opposed to the widening of Ortega to six lanes, he will welcome any push-back efforts by residents.

 *Source: National Park Service Management Policies 2006

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