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La Pata connection to open Sunday, ribbon cutting Saturday

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By Eric Heinz

San Clemente and San Juan Capistrano’s silk road is set to open at 8 a.m. on Sunday, Aug. 14.

La Pata has been a dream for local residents for many years who sought quicker access between the communities and better distribution of traffic in the area.

Tom Frank, the city of San Clemente Transportation Engineer Manager, said the road has been in the city’s General Plan for more than 20 years. Frank said the road will have numerous benefits beside traffic control, including routes for emergency medical teams and access to the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS). The nuclear power plant, about two miles south of San Clemente, has made some residents want an alternate evacuation route should anything go wrong.

Environmental studies on the area began in 2009 and ended in 2011. The road is about 2.3 miles and was extended 1.8 to connect the two cities.

La Pata, starting from San Clemente and traveling north, has a pedestrian bridge people can utilize. Two other bridges are crossings for landfill operations, which look like culverts but are actually meant for garbage trucks that run under the road to the Prima Deshecha Landfill. The garbage trucks will only come from San Clemente, Frank said.

Construction of the road began in 2014, and the first phase is all but complete.

Phases Two and Three

The next phase in the project is to complete the La Pata widening on the San Juan Capistrano side of the project.

Two additional lanes will be installed at the north and southbound La Pata entrances near San Juan Hills High School.

Phase three will include roundabouts for Camino Del Rio, where La Pata will feed into a portion of the way north from Avenida Vista Hermosa.

Frank said the city has completed the design stage and is working to get the project out to bid to contractors this fall.

“The county said the Camino Del Rio completion is around April,” Frank said.

The cost for the roundabouts is $1 million.

“We’re resurfacing the entire city portion of Camino Del Rio,” Frank said. “The intersection improvements will help manage the traffic, especially near that greenbelt where there’s a lot of pedestrian traffic.”

Near Avenida Sarmetosa and Del Rio is Bernice Ayer Middle School in a largely residential neighborhood.

“We’re going to stripe (Del Rio) as a three-lane roadway, with one travel lane going down from La Pata to the existing Del Rio with two lanes going up,” Frank said, adding that the improvements should calm traffic noise.

“A lot of San Clemente residents will likely use La Pata rather than I-5 north,” he said.

Local Officials ‘Thrilled’

San Clemente Mayor Bob Baker said he is eager to see the traffic benefits for the residents of San Clemente as well as neighboring citizens.

“I think it’s going to be a terrific traffic reducer, and now for all the folks who live in Rancho Santa Margarita and Forester and Talega, if they want to go to Mission they have to go south and then north,” Baker said. “So La Pata will make the trip much easier for them, and it’ll be great for everyone.”

Like most major projects, it takes time to complete something of such a grand scale.

“The bottom line on this is funding, and we cobbled together county funding with different sources from some assistance from the city and taking money promised in the future and spending it now,” Baker said.

In the end, Baker said the establishment of the route is a positive addition to the area.

“I am absolutely thrilled that this project is coming to fruition, and we’re going to have this route,” Baker said. “It’s going to be a tremendous time-saver for people. We all spent plenty of time in our vehicles in Southern California, and this will be good for everybody.”

County Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Lisa Bartlett said the completion of this project should have major benefits not only for local commutes but also for emergency medical service providers.

Frank said county officials have been speaking with local EMS personnel.

“The opening of La Pata with the gap closure is really significant for the county because it improves regional mobility in that entire area,” Bartlett said. “We’re in gridlock most of the time in our major arterial routes, and we’ve only got the I-5. So this will provide for a redundant route and allow for the residents to choose an option for traveling around South Orange County.”

Bartlett said the opening of the Avenida La Pata connection will help emergency medical personnel get to residents and Mission Hospital.

“I think common sense will show that having that gap open will increase mobility and routes and options for first responders,” Bartlett said.

Bartlett said although obtaining funding can delay projects, some unforeseen circumstances did arise in the process of constructing the road.

“During the excavation period, our crews discovered fossils of ancient sea life, and those are some of the things that caused a slight delay in the project because we had to get archeological teams out there to uncover all of the artifacts,” she said.

Air quality improvement by alleviating traffic density is another benefit likely to be seen from the opening of La Pata.

Although the road should make travel easier, there isn’t much lighting after drivers make their way just past the entrances from Vista Hermosa or Ortega Highway near San Juan.

“Our Public Works Department has addressed all the issues concerning lighting, and it’s important to have adequate lighting for the ridership, but at the same time we don’t want to have light pollution for the surrounding residents,” Bartlett said. “Public safety is our primary concern on La Pata.”

In preparation for the road’s completion, the San Juan Capistrano City Council voted unanimously on June 21 to move forward with renaming La Pata Avenue in San Juan to Avenida La Pata, making it consistent with the road’s name in San Clemente. Councilman Sam Allevato volunteered to work with San Clemente’s City Council and Supervisor Lisa Bartlett’s office on the coordinated name change effort.

Allison Jarrell contributed to this report.

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