Showdown Looms For Controversial Bridge – August 28, 2015

University City residents sharply divided over proposed Regents Road crossing

By David Garrick | 11:17 a.m. Aug. 28, 2015

SAN DIEGO — After many years of controversy, University City residents and community leaders are gearing up for what appears to be a final showdown next year on the proposed Regents Road bridge.

Many residents consider the $40 million bridge crucial to boosting traffic flow and emergency response times in one of the region’s most congested areas, but city officials decided last year to study deleting it from the University City Community Plan.

They said uncertainty about construction of the bridge, which has been delayed by years of community protests and litigation by environmental groups, has made it more of a hindrance than a help to effective community planning.

So the City Council voted in September 2014, with support from Mayor Kevin Faulconer, to analyze whether the bridge and a widening of nearby Genesee Avenue should remain part of the community plan.

Several studies analyzing traffic and future projects planned for the area are underway this summer or about to begin, and work on a full environmental impact report is scheduled to start this fall, city officials said this week.

Many residents, especially those in southeastern University City, say it’s foolish to eliminate a crucial proposed arterial in an area where traffic is already awful.

“The bridge over Rose Canyon at Regents Road is the only viable alternative to relieve the daily traffic congestion going north on Genesee in the morning and south on Genesee in the afternoon and evening,” said longtime resident Austin Speed.

The bridge would connect two large segments of Regents Road that now dead end at the northern and southern edges of Rose Canyon. Without the bridge, Genesee is the only major north-south route through the area, which includes UC San Diego and UTC mall.

Speed stressed that the council in 2006 chose the bridge, which has been planned since 1959, as the best of seven proposed alternatives for relieving traffic in the area.

“What has happened since then to make it the least desirable alternative?” he said, noting that a previous EIR was completed in 2005. “And what is the rush?”

Speed suggests property values could be behind efforts to remove the bridge from the community plan, contending the lack of a bridge has allowed “elite southwest UC property owners to unreservedly enjoy a ‘peninsula life’ with enhanced property values for over 50 years at the cost of suppressed property values in the southeast part of UC.”

Longtime resident Joe Andrilla agreed, saying it’s “political chicanery” by Council President Sherri Lightner, who represents the area, that is “undermining a project that has time and time again been validated by previous and current council members as crucial to public safety and traffic flow.”

Lightner declined to respond to such criticisms, saying through a spokeswoman that she looks forward to working with the local planning group and residents on finalizing the plan.

“She wants to encourage everyone to participate and provide input in the process,” said the spokeswoman, Jennifer Kearns.

Last year, Lightner said freeway expansions and the La Jolla extension of the San Diego Trolley had changed the dynamics of the area since the bridge was first proposed decades ago.

She and Faulconer also said uncertainty about the bridge has stymied planners who struggle when trying to envision future traffic patterns in the area.

Debbie Knight, another University City resident, said the city and Lightner are making the right move, contending that property values only play a small role in whether residents support the bridge.

“This is a very old school road project and the facts have never supported building it,” said Knight, who leads and environmental group called Friends of Rose Canyon.

Knight said the area’s topography makes it impossible to build a bridge without bulldozing a hill and destroying a wetland within the canyon, which is a watershed to Mission Bay.

She also said congestion on Genesee, which she contends is only a problem during commute hours, will be partly alleviated when Interstate 805 is widened.

Janay Kruger, chair of the University Planning Group, said such diametrically opposed views among residents have characterized the debate about the Regents Road bridge for many years.

“It’s like hand-to-hand combat — neighbor versus neighbor,” she said.

david.garrick@sduniontribune.com (619) 269-8906 @UTDavidGarrick

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