What the heck is going on with French Valley Parkway?

Just what is going on with Phase I of the French Valley Parkway? The offramp was constructed a few months ago, but is still closed to traffic. Short answer to this question is government bureaucracy at the state level. The City of Temecula is the lead local agency of this big project and here's what the Press Enterprise had to say about it two months ago in February:

It takes so long to get these sort of simple changes completed because of the nature of road repairs when Caltrans is involved.

The city can’t just go out with a bucket and a brush and paint new lines or quickly swap out signs. Plans must be sent — even on relatively minor changes like this — to Caltrans for inspection and then after they are approved the city can find someone to do the work, which will then need to be inspected by Caltrans after it is complete.

Government Bureaucracy at its Finest:

As the newspaper reported, the specific issue at stake was incorrect traffic signs placed and insufficient striping along the right shoulder. Okay, fair enough. But under a streamlined regulatory system, the same construction firm that was contracted to build the interchange would be instructed by the state agency to change out the non-compliant signs, fix the striping, and get an authorized official over within the same week to verify the change and open the lanes to traffic.

However, the current system calls for all kinds of regulatory preapprovals which causes unnecessary delays and needless government spending. Yes, such rules are necessary for larger scale projects simply due to safety but are they really necessary to change out a few signs and re-stripe the right shoulder? Now if there was a structural issue found during the first inspections besides the signs and striping, the delays would be justified, but officials should let us know about it and not leave us in the dark. You can read more about this issue here.

Between the time of the announced delay in February and now, we found the following facts in the City of Temecula's public meeting agendas:

  • Phase I Project Cost Rundown as part of the February 25 City Council Agenda:
    • Administration: $1,034,021
    • Property Acquisition: $6,385,195
    • Construction: $16,094,183
    • Engineering: $3,154,131
    • Design: $2,157,257
    • Phase I Total: $28,824,787
  • On February 25, the City Council allocated in additional $205,000 for Consultant Services with the construction firm Harris & Associates for management support services for the project.

We also passed through the site over last weekend and noted that the new signs requested by Caltrans were installed. Now it's a matter of conducting the final inspections and opening the offramp. 

Potential Government Waste: Unnecessary Retaining Wall

Also we're not giving the city a pass with all this red-tape mess simply due to how Phase I was designed and constructed. When the Phase I offramp was built, the segment that will later become part of the six-lane French Valley Parkway was literally half-graded and developed. That is, only the northern side of the road was constructed; the southern side was left untouched. That meant a need for a temporary retaining wall to support the half-built roadway. However, that wall was constructed as if was permanent infrastructure. The city included such a wall buried in a City Council agenda fact-sheet. Here is the full context of the Phase I project description:

This project includes the design, right-of-way acquisition, utility relocation, and construction activities to portions of the French Valley Parkway and Interstate 15 over-crossing and interchange. The project will add a new southbound off-ramp from Interstate 15 to French Valley Parkway, construct the northern half of French Valley Parkway from the off-ramp to Jefferson Avenue, widen the existing southbound off-ramp from Interstate 15 to Winchester, and construct a new auxiliary lane between French Valley Parkway and the Winchester Road southbound off-ramp. Other features include permanent and temporary retaining walls, erosion control and irrigation, and a new traffic signal and roadway improvements at the intersection of French Valley Parkway and Jefferson Avenue. The project requires oversight by Caltrans and coordination with the City of Murrieta.

The question is why wasn't the entire road segment graded during Phase I so that these "temporary retaining walls" that certainly costed significant amounts of transportation tax money to design and build could have been eliminated from the project budget?

Phase II: Let's do it right this time.

Phase II of the French Valley Parkway promises to clear out the infamous northbound freeway bottleneck which often causes northbound afternoon peak hour traffic to back up all the way to the San Diego County Line and sometimes as far as Highway 76 in Pala Mesa on some Fridays. In fairness, the interchange environmental reports showed that the project would support the future build of two high occupancy carpool lanes each way combined with a direct HOV/HOT connector with the I-215 freeway. That would provide infrastructure for speedy bus transit for the area.

It's time for officials to unravel the unneccessary red tape, get French Valley Parkway's costs under control, and get Southwest Riverside County moving again.