|An overhead view of the planned widening of Newport Road between Antelope Road and Menifee Road.|
After some discussion during a brief public hearing, council members voted 4-0 to approve the project. Mayor Scott Mann was absent to attend to city business in Sacramento. The project will now go out for bid to contractors, and construction is expected to take place between August and December.
This project is the first of six phases in the city's road improvement program. It will increase Newport Road from two lanes each way to three lanes and is designed to ease traffic flow for drivers heading westbound from areas as far away as Hemet.
In public forums -- including Menifee 24/7 postings -- many residents have opposed this project, especially its No. 1 priority ahead of the Newport Road freeway interchange expansion and a proposed plan to build a freeway overpass at Holland Road. Only one resident spoke out against the project during the main public comments portion of the council meeting, however, and none during the public hearing.
Rob Johnson, interim city manager, explained the reasoning for the timing of this project.
"We have projects that have a timetable," Johnson said. "We're so far along with the planning for this, most of the specs have already been done. This project was always planned by the county, and we've decided to accelerate it. It would be more of a bottleneck if we worked on the Newport bridge first."
Overall plans call for Newport to be widened approaching the freeway from the east, making it the same six-lane thoroughfare that Newport is on the west side. The next phase would then be the $30 million Newport freeway interchange project, which would begin early next year. That will also increase the road from two lanes each way to three over the bridge, and it will eliminate the need for turn lanes onto the freeway because of the on- and off-ramp construction.
The one resident who spoke against the project suggested that traffic signals on Newport be timed better and aligned with those at the top of the freeway bridge. Those are under the control of the county rather than the city, but Johnson indicated that the lights won't be a problem once the first two phases of construction are completed.
"The issue with the lights over the freeway will be mitigated by the additional lanes and the change in on-ramp design," he said. "There won't be a signal needed to turn onto the freeway. The only issue will be the through traffic, and I don't believe there will be a light on the bridge itself. It will no longer be needed."
The four-month widening project will be conducted in three phases:
Stage 1: One lane will be closed in each direction while work takes place on the outside lanes.
Stage 2: All four lanes will be shifted to one half of the road while work is done on the other half, and vice versa.
Stage 3: One lane each direction will be closed while work is completed on the center median.
Construction will take place in two shifts each day: From 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and 9 p.m. to 5 a.m.
Council member Tom Fuhrman asked city planners whether the time of the project could be reduced to two months if the entire stretch of roadway was shut down and worked on all at once. He suggested drivers planning ahead would rather take detours for two months than put up with the rotating closures for twice that long.
Johnson and Jonathan Smith, assistant director of public works, said they believed it would not be possible nor practical to consider such a solution, and the proposal was not considered further.