The project is expected to take at least 17 months to complete. This includes the utility undergrounding that is being completed by the utility companies under a separate contract.
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The Espola Road Safety Improvements Project will improve safety for those who walk, jog, cycle or ride horses along the stretch of Espola Road between Poway High School and Twin Peaks Road. Specifically, it will add a pathway where none currently exists on the west side of Espola Road, from Mountain Road (just north of Twin Peaks Road) to Willow Ranch Road (about a block south of Titan Way).
The first phase of the project will be grading the pathway and shoulder area along with installation of retaining walls and new street lights. This will be followed by the “undergrounding” of overhead utilities phase. This means that the overhead powerlines and other equipment will be moved underground, aesthetically improving the roadway and removing obstacles from the proposed pathway. SDG&E’s contractor will complete the trenching and conduit installation for all of the utility companies. SDG&E, AT&T, and Cox Communications will each complete their own cable installations in the new underground conduit and remove their facilities from the overhead poles. Once the utilities are underground, SDG&E will remove the poles. A few poles will remain in place that serve residences that are not included in the undergrounding limits.
The final phase of the project is creating a safe access by installing a decomposed granite (DG) pathway. The pathway will be generally set back from the main road and include a lodge-pole fence as a protective barrier.
This stretch of Espola Road has been the subject of discussion for more than 25 years as it’s one of the few sections that has not been upgraded along this widely-travelled corridor.
At one point, the City Council looked at – and rejected – the idea of widening it to a four-lane roadway. Staff later proposed a compromise: a three-lane roadway (a travel lane in each direction plus a continuous center left-turn lane) along with a list of other improvements that would relieve traffic, increase capacity of the existing roadway and improve safety for vehicles, pedestrians and bicyclists. City Council ultimately decided that while there wasn’t a significant enough need to widen the road, the other safety improvements were needed. (Agenda report for Oct. 1, 2013 Council Meeting)
Most of this section has no pathway, outside of a narrow dirt trail directly alongside the busy road. Pedestrians navigate uneven walkways, utility poles, street signs and more – all while keeping an eye on cars travelling at speeds of 45 miles per hour (and higher).
The current cost estimate of the walkway including design, construction and right-of-way acquisition is approximately $2.1 million. A general fund appropriation of $2.4 million has been set aside for the walkway portion of the project. The undergrounding of overhead utilities is split into two underground utility districts and two types of funding. An underground utility district was created to use the approximately $1.89 million in Rule 20A funds available. These funds come from the rates paid by utility customers and are distributed annually by SDG&E to jurisdictions to pay for undergrounding projects. Because the 20A funds do not cover undergrounding the entire section between Twin Peaks and Titan Way, City Council directed staff to use a portion of the City’s surplus revenues to form a Rule 20B underground utility district. An appropriation of $2.6 million has been set aside for completion of the Rule 20B utility undergrounding.
The Espola Road Safety Improvement Project will not impact the current road – it will stay as is. The Poway City Council’s commitment to this is so strong that in October 2013 they went on record with a resolution confirming that it does not intend to widen Espola Road.
But even though this project doesn’t target widening the road to accommodate more cars, it’s still expected to have a positive impact on traffic – especially when congestion is at its worst. More than 2,400 students attend Poway High and this road is the only route to and from school for a significant portion of neighborhoods within its boundaries. Constructing a pedestrian-friendly pathway will likely result in more students walking or biking to school, which in turn will reduce the number of cars on the road during peak times.
Espola Road is an essential corridor between the southeastern portion of Poway and areas to the north. Creating safe access along a stretch of road that was built long before Poway incorporated is not without its challenges.
The existing right-of-way doesn’t always provide the needed area for the project. The City acquired strips of land adjacent to the road from some property owners in order for the pathway to be built.
Construction will impact the current landscape. A few trees that exist in the area of the new pathway have been identified for removal. There are walls, utility poles, signs and other impairments that will need to be moved as well.
As with any plan that impacts a neighborhood while enhancing the community at large, there were significant variations and points of view to consider. After thoughtful consideration, the City Council determined that this alternative would provide the balance needed between progress and preservation. Its open, natural design mirrors the “City in the Country” tone of the community while ensuring for the safety of those who travel this road.
During the first phase of the project, traffic will continue to be one lane in each direction with the middle turn lane being eliminated. This configuration will likely be set up on a 24-hour basis. When the contractor needs to set up daily traffic control, the hours will be restricted to set up after 8:30 a.m. to prevent delays in morning school traffic. For daily traffic control setup, removal will be by 4:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday and by 4 p.m. on Fridays that City Hall is open.
It is anticipated that construction activities will start at one end of the project limits and traffic control will be limited to the active construction area. For the portion of the project in which the Espola Road/Del Poniente Road intersection is narrowed, a Sheriff’s deputy will be assigned to direct traffic at that intersection on school days between 7:00 and 7:30 a.m. In addition, the traffic signal timing has been adjusted.
Vehicle and cyclists will be asked to share the road. Pedestrians will be provided a safe and clear walking area through the active construction zone. Bus routes will remain the same and no impacts are anticipated to trash collection or mail delivery.
Traffic will be impacted to varying degrees during the project depending on the segment under construction.
The Espola Road Safety Improvements project is a multi-phased project coordinating multiple construction crews over a minimum of 17 months. There was no feasible way to limit construction to times in which PUSD schools were on break. Likewise, the noise ordinance (Poway Municipal Code Section 8.08.100) restricts the days and hours that heavy machinery may be used. The City Engineer may allow for construction activities outside of normal working hours if the operations are not detrimental to the health, safety or welfare of the surrounding community. Due to the residential neighborhoods adjacent to the project area, night work would cause negative impacts and therefore was not an option.
It’s a top priority for the City to keep this project moving, but each step of the project has its own complexities. It is very common during construction to find unknown situations that need to be redesigned or changed to keep the project moving along. In most cases this involves behind-the-scenes work.