OCEANSIDE — City Council approved a revised contract amount to perform land-surveying services for the Melrose Drive Gap project, also known as the Melrose Drive Link or Melrose Drive Extension project, at its Jan. 23 meeting.
According to a Jan. 9 memorandum from City Engineer Brian Thomas and Senior Civil Engineer David Toschak to City Council, the Melrose Drive Gap project was reinitiated through the Fiscal Year 2018-2019 Capital Improvement Program per City Council direction at a budget workshop in April 2018.
The proposed project would extend Melrose Drive about 3,000 feet between North Santa Fe and Spur avenues and widen approximately 1,900 feet of the existing Melrose Drive south of North Santa Fe Avenue to Sagewood Drive in the northeast corner of the city.
Currently, Melrose Drive ends at North Santa Fe Avenue to the south and at Spur Avenue to the north, but the extension would grant access from North Santa Fe to State Route 76 via Melrose.
The proposed extension is included in the Master Transportation Plan of the City of Oceanside General Plan Circulation Element and the County of San Diego General Plan.
Staff recommended that City Council approve an amendment in the amount of $118,612 to the Professional Services Agreement with NV5, Inc. for a revised contract amount not to exceed $168,612 to perform the land surveying services as needed.
According to the staff report, on July 25, 2017, the city entered into the agreement with an amount not to exceed $50,000 with the engineering and consulting services agency to perform land-surveying services for capital improvement and water utilities projects.
NV5 developed nearly 100 percent of the project’s design plans and specifications in 2015.
To complete the gap from North Santa Fe to Spur, city staff determined that four full property acquisitions, approximately five partial property acquisitions and conversion of county-owned, state-granted parkland are needed for the right-of-way.
Additionally, 53 partial right-of-way acquisitions and easements will be needed to widen the existing roads.
Initial boundary surveys are already being performed to determine acreage for the acquisitions. The Jan. 23 amendment will fund surveys along the entire project limit.
According to the engineers’ letter, the estimated cost to complete the project’s design and construction has increased from approximately $33 million to $42 million dollars excluding land acquisitions.
Traffic congestion is heavy in the project area road segments near Melrose Drive and North Santa Fe Avenue, according to the city, which claims the completed roadway would promote intra-city and sub-regional transportation services and improve the regional transportation link to neighboring Vista.
The planning process for the project started in the early 1990s and the final environmental impact report (EIR) was completed and certified in 2010. In 2011, local environmental group Preserve Calavera sued the city, challenging the EIR on the road.
The city and the environmental group eventually settled, with the city agreeing to keep the road extension to four lanes instead of widening part of it to six.
Several residents spoke out against the project during the council meeting.
Resident Phillip Obrite said the congestion on Melrose Drive is a commute issue and called the project is a “zero-net gain,” explaining that all of the main highway arteries are full during peak commute times and connecting Melrose to Route 76 won’t help.
“We can add all the secondary roads we like to converge with Highway 76 artery; if the artery is full, it’s full,” he said. “Adding the Melrose link intersection at Highway 76 is just cutting in line, adding to an already backed-up situation allowing some people to get home a few minutes earlier and other people a few minutes later.”
Several speakers urged the city to stop funding the project, citing a lack of city resources.
According to the city engineer’s memo, funding programs available for the project are limited, and the project doesn’t qualify for any specific federal funding program.
Others expressed concern about how the project will impact wildlife in the area. Daniel Burke questioned the survey’s ability to measure the project’s impact on what used to be known as the “Old Indian Trail.”
“If you look at the maps of this area from 100 to 150 years ago, the road now named Guajome Lake Road was known as the Old Indian Trail because truth in fact it was the old Indian trail,” he said. “This road is going to cut across that Old Indian Trail.”
Burke said he wasn’t sure how Native Americans felt about the project affecting the road, but thinks that question should be asked. He also said the survey should pay attention to the “integrity of probably the last remaining dirt road with historic significance in the city.”
Council approved the amendment 4-1, with Councilwoman Esther Sanchez opposed.
Sanchez said she is “very concerned” about the project.
“It’s got old studies, it’s got very old input, and we ought to be talking about looking at those things and not jumping in terms of spending even more money on a project that’s not going to do anything for us,” she said.
Sanchez said the original justification for the project was it would improve emergency and other transportation services, but noted that those improvements will be “insignificant.”
Mayor Peter Weiss affirmed that council was not yet voting on the project and that there maybe be opportunities to look at better projects along the way. Boundary surveys will be complete this spring, according to the city engineer, and plan review and cost estimating should be completed by this winter.
Samantha Nelson covers Oceanside, Camp Pendleton and the decommissioning San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station. She earned her journalism degree from the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University, and has previously reported for The Athens Messenger in Athens, Ohio, and USA Today in McLean, Virginia. Follow her on Twitter: @samm1son