Relieving Hwy. 101 traffic should be priority when considering Spanish Springs project

Pismo must deal with issue as it mulls Spanish Springs project

letters@thetribunenews.comJune 2, 2013 

Called Spanish Springs, the plan includes 416 single-family homes, 73 multi-family homes, 120 senior residential units, 150 hotel rooms, a nine-hole golf course, parks and other amenities, including about 700 acres of open space, spread over 961 acres in Price Canyon.

Spanish Springs — a mixed-use development proposed for the Price Canyon area of Pismo Beach — appears to be a first-rate project that would be an asset to the entire South County.

Among other benefits, it would provide jobs and tax revenue, and we’re especially impressed that 73 percent of the property — 684 of the 961 acres — would be set aside as open space, providing hiking, biking and other recreational opportunities.

But as with any major project, there are concerns about whether existing infrastructure — particularly roads — can handle the growth.

Opponents say a project of this size would overwhelm the area and exacerbate traffic. The project’s Environmental Impact Report concludes that the development would have “significant, unavoidable impacts on traffic” on Highway 101 and Highway 227 until regional improvements are completed.

And there’s the rub.

The city does have a plan on the books to build an inland arterial that would extend from Oak Park Boulevard to Price Canyon Road, providing an alternative to Highway 101. But as Cynthia Lambert reports in today’s Tribune, that plan is in limbo because the owners of one property along the route aren’t willing to allow a road to be built across their land.

Developers of Spanish Springs still would be required to build a portion of the arterial, but there’s disagreement as to how much that would help relieve traffic on Highway 101.

The city believes building a portion of the road would bring some relief, but regional planning agencies — including the San Luis Obispo Council of Governments and the Local Agency Formation Commission — aren’t so optimistic.

That said, Spanish Springs would hardly be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.

Congestion on Highway 101 is a problem that’s been building for many years, and it would be unfair to lay the blame for that on any single development — or to expect one development, such as Spanish Springs, to solve the problem.

For that reason, we don’t believe it’s appropriate to reject the project on that basis.

We are concerned, though, about a lack of planning, both by the city and regional agencies, to deal with worsening traffic on Highway 101 through Pismo Beach.

Too often, we’ve seen governments approve projects and worry about traffic after the fact.

Pismo Beach, in particular, has a history of shortsighted planning.

The city missed a golden opportunity in 2005 when it rejected a proposal to turn Price Street into a frontage road that would have linked the downtown to popular shopping outlets, relieving congestion on Highway 101. That $18 million project would have cost the city only $735,000.

If the Pismo Beach City Council decides to move forward with annexation and development of Price Canyon — and based on previous votes, that appears likely — it must simultaneously develop a workable plan to relieve congestion on Highway 101, and require new developments, including Spanish Springs, to pay their fair share.

If local leaders continue to do nothing, in a couple of decades Highway 101 through Pismo Beach will have a nickname: parking lot.

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