Bird Rock roundabouts, sewer work, will be disruptive

The good - and bad - news is work has begun on sewer main replacement, with construction of the last three of five roundabouts to follow, which will complete Bird Rock’s long-term, traffic-calming plan.

On the positive side, the much-anticipated final phase of the Bird Rock Coastal Traffic Flow Improvement Plan is finally here. City traffic engineers and the project’s general contractor, West Coast General, related the news on Sept. 25 to local merchants.

On the negative side are disruptions to traffic, and especially parking, to occur to various degrees and at various times along Bird Rock’s La Jolla Boulevard commercial strip for the duration of construction work, which is expected to be completed in April or May 2008.

“We know this is a difficult period, a hard time,” said Keely Sweeney, Council President Scott Peters’ La Jolla representative, starting off the face-to-face public meeting at Bird Rock’s Masonic Lodge. “Let us know if there’s anything we can do to help you through.”

Phase 1 of traffic improvements, bulb-outs and related construction along Bird Rock side streets in residential neighborhoods, has been under way for some time, said Mike Arnold, an associate city engineer who is project manager for Bird Rock.

“That should be wrapping up in a couple of months,” Arnold said, adding sewer work now underway on La Jolla Boulevard will be done in two phases. “The first phase will be on the west side of La Jolla Boulevard,” he said, “that’s probably going to take 19 or 20 working days. Then they (crews) are going to flip over and finish the rest of the work on sewer laterals on the east side.”

When sewer construction work “flips” from the west to the east side of La Jolla Boulevard, there will be an approximately 10-day period, in mid- to late-October, when there will be no parking on either side of La Jolla Boulevard, city officials said.

Arnold said sewer construction work also necessitates reducing four lanes of traffic on both sides of La Jolla Boulevard down two lanes, one in each direction, on just the east side of the street during the first phase of construction. He added sewer replacement work is disruptive. “It will impact traffic, parking, even some of the pedestrian sidewalks,” he said. “It’s just the nature of the business, the work creates the impact.”

It was pointed out by general contractor West Coast General that the initial traffic control plan called for in their successful construction bid did not allow for any parking at all on La Jolla Boulevard from Forward to Midway streets. “The first thing was to come up with a plan to alter traffic control to allow parking on the east side of La Jolla Boulevard, which was not part of the contract,” said Bob Garcia, West Coast General’s vice president. “We’re going to see how it works. If there’s no conflict with the working zone, and it’s safe, parking’s going to go in. We know it’s your (merchant’s) livelihood. We want to make sure we can accommodate parking as much as we can.”

For many merchants, especially new ones to the area, the Sept. 25 pre-construction meeting came as an eye-opener, with a couple of merchants dismayed that they were unaware parking would be blocked off on both sides of La Jolla Boulevard, if only for a relatively short time.

Asked why sewer work could not take place in the boulevard’s center medians, city officials replied Metropolitan Wastewater Department doesn’t allow sewer lines in medians because of root intrusion from landscaping.

Chuck Patton, owner of Bird Rock Coffee Roasters and current president of Bird Rock Community Council, suggested merchants might want to consider an end-of-the-year moratorium on street construction to help out their sales.

However, he noted, doing so would lead to a trade-off. “I’m trying to figure out if a holiday moratorium for a couple weeks would risk construction going into (next) summer,” he said.

Darlene Smith of Hard Hat Communications, the public relations firm which acted as liaison between the city and Bird Rock during the first phase of sewer, water and roundabout construction a couple of years ago, said things should go more smoothly this time. “We’ve learned from the last go-round,” Smith said. “We’ll be providing e-mail updates on our Web site, We’ll be incorporating many things that succeeded before.”

Smith added anyone with questions or concerns can call Hard Hat’s 24-hour hotline at 888-481-1428.

Jerry Klein of A Better Deal tuxedo shop asked how many employees would be on work crews. When told the number would be 15 to 20, Klein said: “Your employees should be told to park a (discreet) distance away. Every one of these parking spaces is going to be critical. I think it behooves every merchant and worker here to do their damnedest to park somewhere else (off La Jolla Boulevard).”

“I own a business and I want that parking for my business for people that walk in,” said Luis Villaverde, who owns Flow boutique with Ana Cristina Silva at 5631 La Jolla Blvd. Villaverde noted retailers dependent on foot traffic will be much more adversely affected by traffic and parking dislocation than office users.

Another suggestion was made by Bird Rock merchants that some of the construction work could be done at night. City traffic engineer Arnold replied that idea was considered, and rejected. “Night work increases your bid by 30 to 40 percent right off the bat,” he said, “because with night work you get noise levels and people trying to sleep which could have necessitated an environmental impact report. There are a lot of issues with night work.”

Arnold spoke for all at the pre-construction meeting in saying: “We (city) want to be as flexible as we can to solve these problems that come up.”