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Tunnel plan for Coast Highway raises concerns

April 19, 2002

Bryce Alderton

A proposal to build an underground pedestrian walkway across Pacific

Coast Highway is sending chills of skepticism through the veins of a

number of residents and business owners.

Councilwoman Toni Iseman has proposed an underground walkway that

would connect Broadway to Main Beach by cutting underneath Coast Highway.

Iseman claims the walkway would reduce the amount of traffic clogging

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city streets in the summer and on weekends by cutting down on the number

of pedestrians.

"Downtown congestion is a problem," Iseman said, simply. "Improving

traffic flow and pedestrian safety is the bottom line. Crossing at

Broadway and Coast Highway would be safer for pedestrians."

Council members decided at Tuesday night's City Council meeting to

postpone the item to a future meeting in May or June when the agenda

wasn't as full, said Mayor Wayne Baglin.

The council still had three items to get to when members decided to

adjourn at midnight, he said.

"We prefer not to take any new issues after 11 p.m.," Baglin said.

Thoughts of less foot traffic in and around Coast Highway and Main

Beach frightens some business owners, who say they depend on pedestrians

strolling by their stores and restaurants.

"Does [the city] need it?" asked Darren Kerr, manager of Hennessey's

Tavern on Ocean Avenue. "I always want [pedestrians] walking by, these

businesses need traffic. We pray for summer. Revenue goes up."

Patrick Wang, who manages the Haagen-Dazs ice cream shop on Coast

Highway, said any benefit his store gets from looking out over Main Beach

could be lost.

"If I don't get the foot traffic anymore, that would hurt my

business," Wang said.

Many also questioned the safety and potential problems of such a

tunnel, pointing out it might lead to flooding when heavy rains and high

tides occur.

The county and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will begin

construction of a new flood control channel on Broadway in September

2003.

A possible increase in crime associated with an underground tunnel

also concerns Iseman.

"We may look into it open during the daytime, having security and

cameras," she said.

An underground tunnel is just one piece of a larger puzzle to reduce

downtown congestion, which gets notoriously heavy on weekends and during

the summer.

"It's not fair for the residents to live with that kind of

congestion," Iseman said. "When [the traffic] starts expanding to

[weekdays], something creative has to happen. You feel like a prisoner in

your own community."

One solution Iseman hopes will ease congestion comes this summer via a

summer shuttle service that will stretch from Crescent Bay in the north

to Aliso Creek in the south, and from the Act V parking lot east to Main

Beach in the west.

"A lot of summertime congestion comes from people looking for a place

to park their car," Iseman said.

Shuttle service will begin in late June and cost $2 to park in the Act

V lot on Laguna Canyon Road. Riders can then ride the shuttle for free

all day between 9:30 a.m. and 11 p.m., seven days a week.

"It's not just for day tourists, but for people in hotels and for

residents," Iseman said. "I hope we have a bus every 15 minutes."

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