Plans to close the gap in La Pata Avenue, connecting San Juan Capistrano to San Clemente, has a gap of its own—funding.
The Orange County Planning Commission voted unanimously Wednesday to recommend final approval of environmental studies related to the street extension, which planners said is the largest arterial project remaining to be constructed in the county, and which will cost a "whopping" $90 million.
While ground is expected to break as early as 2013, less than half of the funding for the $77-million construction has been earmarked. (The remaining costs are associated with planning and studies).
"There’s a big funding gap," said project manager Harry Persaud, who added that the project must be fully funded before construction starts.
Persaud said $35 million has been secured—$33 million from housing developers and $2 million from the county. "We're working feverishly to get Measure M money from [the Orange County Transportation Authority]," he said.
The plan is to extend and widen the existing 1.8-mile portion of La Pata Avenue from south of Ortega Highway, just outside the city of San Juan Capistrano boundaries, about two miles to connect with La Pata Avenue in San Clemente at Calle Saluda.
The project also includes a quarter-mile extension of Camino del Rio to the future La Pata Avenue from where it ends, just east of Camino de Los Mares. Both highways are proposed as four-lane roadways.
The extension will primarily serve future Rancho Mission Viejo residents, as well as the Talega and Forster Ranch communities. And, once constructed, the extension would allow San Juan residents to avoid driving on the congested 5 freeway and give better access to , which draws students from San Clemente.
Persaud said the La Pata extension will be necessary even if the final segment of 241 toll road is built from its current end at Oso Parkway to the 5 freeway, south of San Clemente. "The purpose of 241 and La Pata are mutually exclusive ... [La Pata] is not intended as a replacement for 241 … 241 serves regional traffic from Riverside, Orange County, San Diego. [La Pata] is a locally serving road."
Rancho Mission Viejo—the developers of Ladera Ranch, Rancho Santa Margarita and Mission Viejo—will kick in $25 million for the construction, as the street extension is integral to its plans to build more than 14,000 homes outside of San Juan Capistrano. Another $8 million will come from fees collected from Talega residents.
The Environmental Impact Report awaits approval from the Board of Supervisors. Mostly, it identifies the potential for serious air pollution during construction, as 9 million cubic yards of dirt will be moved around to stabilize the seismically-unsound foundation.
The construction could be staged in three phases: from Ortega Highway to the Prima Deshecha Landfill, from the landfill entrance to San Clemente city boundaries and then through San Clemente. But, constructing the project in three phases would diminish its chances of securing federal funding. "From a federal standpoint, they want to see a project with a continuous connection," Persaud said.