October 2017​

By Scott Breeden

Featured speakers at the Inter-Canyon League’s Sept. 5 public meeting at the Silverado Community Center were Orange County Public Works Director Shane Silsby and staff, who discussed planned changes to Santiago County Road and bridges in Silverado and Modjeska.

Three bridges in Silverado and one in Modjeska are slated for replacement because they are  “functionally obsolete” and have a low “sufficiency rating.”  Standards have changed since the bridges were built between 1935 and 1947, and new bridges would not be identical to the old ones, but efforts could be made to make them appear similar.

Of particular concern to canyon residents is the Modjeska bridge over Santiago Creek. It is not clear if that bridge could be replaced without taking private property or damaging nearby trees. Project Manager Wei Zhu said that OCPW is “looking into” standards for bridge replacement that might meet CalTrans requirements.

There are three phases to OCPW’s initiatives for Santiago Canyon Road between Orange and Trabuco Canyon, according to Director Silsby: short-term, medium-term and long-term.

Short-term measures, begun last spring, include adding speed feedback signs, changeable message boards, and a review of the Santiago/Chapman and Jamboree intersection with the City of Orange.

Medium-term (2019) plans include adding flashing beacons, delineators, reflectors, high friction surface treatment, and a bicyclist buffer zone to the road.

The long-term plan (construction beginning in 2023) is to add four passing lanes plus retaining walls, metal beam guard rails and other improvements. This is expected to cost $24 million from the Santiago Canyon Road Fee Program, federal grant funding and county road funds.

Life in the not-so-fast lane

According to Silsby, the passing lanes project is made possible by amending the county’s Master Plan of Arterial Highways (currently in process).  Among other things, the MPAH amendment would change Santiago County Road’s projected eventual use from four lanes to two.  But “reducing” the road to its current two lanes does not preclude adding passing lanes. Silsby characterized passing lanes as a safety improvement rather than a means to increase road capacity.  He said that OCPW’s planned passing lane locations are based on accidents and environmental impact.  

Some questions from the audience, with Silsby’s answers:

Q: What about keeping the canyons rural?

A: Safety and passing lane projects will both have public meetings.

Q: Is there proof that adding passing lanes adds safety?

A: It is based on accident type (passing illegally).

Q: Will increasing the level of service allow new development along Santiago Canyon Road?

A: Unknown; this should be in traffic study documents that aren’t out yet.

Q: Are there similar success stories in rural areas where passing lanes have been added?

A:  Yes, in Michigan and northern Arizona.

Q: Why do we need all these improvements?

A: You tell me. The road has been called the deadliest in the county.  Supervisor Spitzer supports it.

Q:  There seems to be increased traffic from outside the canyons.  Why are we not encouraging use of the toll roads?

A:  Unknown. Cities control the major intersections.

The biggest applause of the evening came when Silsby remarked that the most effective way to reduce traffic on Santiago Canyon Road would be to put up gates at both ends.

All’s fair in literary OC
The 47th annual Silverado Country Fair will take place Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 14-15.

Commencing with the traditional Unparade through town, and a robbery of the cafe by notorious old-time bandits at 9:30 a.m. sharp (more or less), the action will then shift to the nearby Silverado Fairgrounds (community center) for two days of food, crafts and entertainment, including storytellers, Wild West reenactments, and a variety of music from nearly a dozen musical acts.  For directions and more information, see silveradocountryfair.org.

The Library of the Canyons will host a reading from “Orange County: A Literary Field Guide,” on Saturday, Oct. 21 from 2 to 3:30 p.m.  The anthology, edited by Lisa Alvarez and Andrew Tonkovich of Modjeska Canyon, highlights authors and stories native to Orange County.  Excerpts will be read by willing community members. Admission and parking is free.

Canyon Beat:

Inter-Canyon League hears road and bridge update