Traffic could potentially get significantly worse in a busy area of San Luis Obispo if a major city freeway overpass project isn’t built on time to handle the demand of the 580-home San Luis Ranch development project.
The entire San Luis Ranch project can now be completed before the planned Prado Road overpass project goes in under revised approval conditions passed last week by City Council.
The overpass is planned to connect Prado Road to Dalidio Road over Highway 101, a key infrastructure project in the city to reduce traffic congestion. The overpass project is on track to begin construction in 2021 and be built by 2023.
Construction of the 580 homes planned for San Luis Ranch is expected to begin in 2021 and be completed in 2025 under a four-year build-out plan.
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City officials believe the Prado interchange project is on schedule to go in at a midway point of the project, but unforeseen planning hang-ups are a possibility, said Jake Hudson, the city’s transportation manager.
Under previous approvals for the project, San Luis Ranch’s developer, Gary Grossman’s Coastal Community Builders, was required to build the first 196 homes and then halt occupancies of the additional 384 homes until the interchange was completed.
Commercial, office and hotel plans that are part of the project also faced stoppages without an overpass in place.
The reason for the tweak is that Grossman said banks wouldn’t loan him the money needed to fund the development with a potential for a work stoppage.
The exact timing of both the Prado overpass and San Luis Ranch development remains fluid, depending on when Grossman begins construction and when the city can implement the overpass project.
The overpass — which involves city, state and county funding — still faces planning hurdles pending environmental review, though its funding is in place.
“I think the council and the city wants everyone to understand there’s the possibility of temporary significant and unavoidable traffic impacts,” Hudson said. “We don’t want to hide that possibility.”
How traffic could get worse
The most significant traffic impact would be on Madonna Road, Los Osos Valley Road, parts of Highway 101 and other nearby roadways.
Hudson estimated the heavy traffic congestion could take place over a period of about two-and-a-half years, depending on timing of both projects.
Hudson said the overpass would mitigate impacts to levels within city standards for traffic — if it’s built on time.
San Luis Ranch also will pay for new roadway improvements including signals, extended turn lanes, bike paths and more on streets such as Madonna, Los Valley Road and Froom Ranch Way to mitigate traffic.
“Right now, the only foreseeable possibility of holding things up (for the Prado interchange) are process delays with various agencies involved,” Hudson said. “But we’re working closely with those agencies to ensure delays don’t happen.”
Coastal Community Builders is required to pay roughly $9.8 million toward the Prado project as part of a fair-share agreement, regardless of when the interchange is built.
City, state and county sources will pay for the rest, with the San Luis Obispo Council of Governments allocating some funding, including a $6 million portion.
The planned first $25 million phase of the $46 million Prado interchange project will connect the city’s west and east ends with an overpass and northbound ramps. Southbound ramps will be left to future planning and construction, as needed.
In addition to its slated 580 homes, San Luis Ranch has approvals for 150,000 square feet of commercial and 100,000 square feet of office space, a 200-room hotel, and 2.8 acres of parks on a 131-acre site bordering Madonna Road and Highway 101 (60 acres of the parcel are to remain open space).
But commercial, office and hotel projects would still need to get City Council approvals for specific proposals.
Housing need overrides traffic
City Council members said housing needs outweigh potential traffic impacts.
“This is a project that we need to support,” Councilman Dan Rivoire said. “This partnership allows us to move forward and achieve local goals on housing and infrastructure.”
Councilman Aaron Gomez said people rely too much on cars, and San Luis Ranch will encourage biking and walking by bringing them closer to their work.
“We need to look at our lifestyles, versus wanting development to pay for our infrastructure, solve our car problems, make our lives better, make humans disappear so we don’t actually have to see them,” Gomez said. “We don’t want to acknowledge that we’re a community. We’re made up of people. We have our jobs, we do our things on a daily basis and we a need home.”
Community Development Director Michael Codron said the project will contribute about $14 million in benefits to the city beyond what’s required through fair-share infrastructure payments.
Those include electric-car charging stations, a park and ride lot and the value of solar and net zero energy building designs.
What residents can expect
More than 2,000 people have signed up for San Luis Ranch’s interest list for a new home.
The project has a local preference program and owner-occupancy requirement of at least five years to give SLO County workers first dibs.
The project is required to provide 68 deed-restricted homes under the city’s inclusionary housing policy, which limits home prices based on designated low, lower and moderate income levels (some of those homes will be built at San Luis Ranch and some will be built elsewhere in the community through payment of in-lieu fees).
The pricing of the homes hasn’t been determined, though last year the developer estimates costs between $350,000 and $600,000, emphasizing that prices weren’t guaranteed.