November 26, 2018

The Laguna Canyon 133 Expansion: Pros vs. Cons

Laguna residents are very concerned over the impending proposed $39 million expansion and extension of the SR-133, a.k.a. Laguna Canyon Road, by Caltrans. This expansion, although very beneficial for a number of commutes and thousands of drivers, will take ages to complete, making the traffic even worse in this area for a temporary amount of time. The purpose of the proposed expansion is the Improve roadway deficiencies by bringing SR-133 to design standards, to improve safety in the vicinity of the SR-133/El Toro Road intersection, and to reduce flooding by improving drainage flow. For more information about this project, please visit Caltrans’ informational site, [], about this project.

The SR-133 Safety Project (0N060) is included in the 2015 Regional Transportation Improvement Program (RTIP). It is also included in the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) 2015 Federal Transportation Improvement Program (FTIP). The project is funded through the State Highway Operation and Protection Program (SHOPP), Collision Reduction, under Program Code for the 2019/2020 fiscal year.

SR-133 was originally added to the State Highway System as Route 185 in 1933. The section between State Route 1 (SR-1) and Canyon Acres Drive was adopted as part of the State Highway System in September 1950. A freeway portion of SR-133 was added to the State Freeway and Expressway System in 1954. The Proposed Freeway Resolution, including relocation and improvements as a freeway (to Route 185), was adopted in November 1954. This resolution proposed realignment to a freeway from Canyon Acres Drive to just south of Interstate 405 (I-405). In 2003, Caltrans initiated a project to widen SR-133 from two-to-four lanes between I-405 and SR-73.

Today, over half of SR-133 remains “unadopted” as part of the State Freeway and Expressway System (from SR-1 to I-405). The “adopted” portion of SR-133 that is part of the State Freeway and Expressway System is from I-405 to the end of the toll road section (PM 8.08–13.64).

This expansion will also cut into the open space and nature along the sides of Laguna Canyon Road. This has raised alarm among the conservation-minded Laguna Canyon Foundation, which has problems with the costs associated not only the project’s pricetag but the visual and environmental tolls. Taken together, the impacts are “severe and irresponsible,” according to the nonprofit’s site [].

“While Laguna Canyon Foundation supports making our roads safer for drivers and bicyclists, we do not believe that the proposed project actually accomplishes this,” states a note on the site. “We are very concerned about the environmental impacts of the project.”

CalTrans is proposing widening the 133 at El Toro Road, extending the second northbound (outbound) lane by 1,200 feet more and the second southbound (inbound) lane by an additional 900 feet. The project is currently in the environmental review phase. Besides extending lanes for motorized vehicles, the project would also add: Eight-foot wide shoulders and bike lanes on both sides of the 133; an underground utility line on the northbound side between El Toro Road and the 73 freeway; and an articulated concrete block channel in the riparian area on the southbound side just before El Toro Road. All of these improvements are greatly needed for safety and long-term balance in this area. The Laguna Canyon Foundation is extremely passionate about keeping the open space and nature preserves as the foremost concern in Laguna Beach, and although they don’t seem to care about improving the safety of this area, they have developed these comments about the CalTrans proposal: • The second northbound (outbound) lane from El Toro Rd. could reasonably be extended 1200 feet without significant environmental impact. • The addition of an eight-foot-wide bike lane and shoulder alongside that northbound (outbound) lane from El Toro Rd. can be accommodated with minimal environmental impact with careful design. However, the current plan calls for undergrounding utilities outside this additional eight-foot shoulder and travel lane. The additional land needed for undergrounding (which requires a hard surface), dramatically expands this proposal’s environmental impact. It will require a significant additional take of open space. We support this portion of the project only if the utilities are undergrounded within the proposed eight-foot shoulder. • The channelization of the riparian area on the inbound side will have serious visual impacts and riparian habitat impacts. While we understand the desire to make this channel easier to maintain and thus reduce flooding, offsite mitigation or the purchase of mitigation credits is not acceptable in this area. This fragile riparian habitat must be mitigated both visually and habitat wise, at least in part, on-site. • The 900-foot extension of the southbound (inbound) lane on the 133 past El Toro Rd. is the area of most concern. The road widening would dip into parkland where Stagecoach South Trail runs along the 133. The existing hillside would be engineered into a 1 ½:1 slope, extending 40 feet into the park. In addition, their proposed lane extension would move the merge location down past the Willow park entrance parking lot. We do not believe this proposal could be completed without dramatic impacts on the park and the parking lot. Specifically: – Existing rock structures and native habitat would be destroyed. – Up to 14 mature oak trees would be removed, to be mitigated within OC Parks but not on site. – The slope steepness would require erosion control and stabilization measures that would make effective restoration of the slope difficult. Think about the southbound side of Laguna Canyon Road across from the Sawdust festival. – Traffic in and out of the Willow parking lot would now require crossing two lanes of incoming traffic, making an already difficult turn even more treacherous. CalTrans has not studied the traffic patterns of this parking lot. This project is based on incomplete data that does not take into consideration the thousands of cars that use this parking lot each year. – All aspects of this project include CalTrans style guard rails, turning Laguna Canyon Road past El Toro into the same freeway style roads we see all over Orange County.

Please let us know what you think about this SR-133 expansion!

Photo by D. Ramey Logan.