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Speed Limit on Ortega to Remain 40 mph — for Now

City Council decides not to support a 5 mph increase on Ortega Highway, but Caltrans may have the ultimate say.

The speed limit on Ortega Highway won’t increase by 5 mph after all if the City Council has any say about it.

The council came “this close” to approving a 5 mph increase between La Novia Avenue and Via Cordova Tuesday night but was persuaded by many emails and visitors at the meeting to balk.

Resident Gila Jones noted that while the city has plans to put in a traffic signal at Via Cordova, that won’t solve all the problems.

“There are nine other streets beside Via Cordova – I am one of those people who live on those streets,” she said. “Turning onto Ortega onto any of the unsignaled streets is already extremely dangerous. Please do not raise the limit on Ortega Highway.”

Jim Ross, acting public works director, said it wasn’t completely clear who sets the speed limit on Ortega Highway, the city or the state, because Orega is a state highway. He said he would research the matter and come back to the council.

Under the law, when an agency conducts a speed survey and finds out that 85 percent of the people are driving at least 5 mph over the speed limit, the signage has to change, Ross said. Otherwise, speeders may be able to successfully fight their tickets in court.

Ross said the Caltrans is set to conduct a speed study of its own next year, and each speed study is good for seven years. So the Orange County Sheriff’s Department can successfully fine speeders for at least another year.

Resident Mark Speros said Caltrans doesn’t necessarily have his confidence.

“This is trying to preserve the nature of San Juan Capistrano versus the people who see us as a pipeline to the freeway. I hope you mark a line in the sand for what makes sense to our residents,” he said.

The city received 11 emails on the subject. Most complained that traffic already moves too fast, and a higher speed limit would just encourage everyone to drive even faster, making an already unsafe situation worse.

"In my view, we should leave it at 40," said Councilman Roy Byrnes. "We call this kicking the can down the road."

Councilman Sam Allevato agreed. "It’s on their dime," he said, referring to the state. "They should tell us what the speed limit is."

Alberto Barrera December 06, 2012 at 07:01 AM
Adding a stop light in the middle of the Ortega? Sounds like a boondoggle in the making. It may be a hassle, but every neighborhood on the right side of the Ortega east bound is connected to Calle Arroyo. If these residents believe it is dangerous to get on the Ortega from their streets, why not take Calle Arroyo to the intersection at La Novia or Rancho Viejo road?
Jonathan Volzke December 06, 2012 at 07:05 PM
Gila, and many others, live on the north side of Ortega, Alberto.
Lon Uso December 06, 2012 at 09:30 PM
Another exercise in futility, The Council can give Cal-trans their opinion but ultimately they will decide. The study will determine the required speed limit by state law, if the study says 45 and it is kept at 40, people receiving tickets could actually challenge them as a speed trap. At least this is my understanding of the law.
ca December 08, 2012 at 01:31 AM
let's talk about putting the San Juan Creek Road thru and ease the impending traffic jam that will be coming as the work on Ortega begins... 40mph will be a distant memory as we SIT in unending and frustrating traffic jams... let's get pro-active about this city council!! those of us who live off the ortega will suffer the effects of your decision either way!!
Lon Uso December 08, 2012 at 01:47 AM
Awesome idea, as SJ gets battered by traffic from outside the community to the point where you can barely recognize it, the solution is to ruin one of the last neighborhoods that is still palatable.
ca December 10, 2012 at 09:16 AM
re: lon uso… thanks… it IS an awesome idea… council members are there to represent ALL SJC residents…
Lon Uso December 10, 2012 at 07:55 PM
And the quality of life in every neighborhood affects the entire community. adding SJC road will certainly benefit the residents of Ladera and the new Ranch homes while devastating that neighborhood and making Ambuehl Elementary much more dangerous, but hey, you'll have less traffic. awesome for you!!!

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