|The extension of Menifee Road from Aldergate Road north to Simpson Road is shown in red on this city map.|
Interim City Manager Rob Johnson told Menifee 24/7 Tuesday that a half-mile stretch of undeveloped land in east Menifee between Aldergate Road and Simpson Road will be turned into a four-lane extension of Menifee Road by Dec. 30. According to Johnson, developer Rancon Group has agreed to begin construction in mid-August, completing the "missing link" in a north-south thoroughfare that could greatly reduce traffic congestion during other nearby road projects.
Local residents have long expressed frustration with the fact that northbound Menifee Road ends at Aldergate Road and southbound Menifee Road dead-ends at Simpson Road (below). It isn't much more than a stone's throw from one end of the missing link to the other, located at the east base of a hillside that precludes alternate routes to the west.
But now, through a bit of political maneuvering, Menifee officials are prepared to give motorists a viable option.
"Because it was evident we couldn't do Holland Road right away, we asked ourselves what would help alleviate traffic when work begins (estimated in early 2014) on the Newport Interchange," Johnson said after Tuesday night's city council meeting. "Completing Menifee Road redirects drivers in two additional ways to the freeway."
As it stands now, residents in the densely populated areas east of Interstate 215 in the center of town have two access points to the freeway -- Scott Road to the south and Newport Road to the north. A $30 million expansion project beginning early next year will eventually create additional traffic lanes on the Newport Road bridge and improve on- and off-ramps. During the construction, however, that vital east-west thoroughfare will be subject to gridlock.
The extension of Menifee Road will allow motorists to head north to the next freeway access road -- McCall Boulevard -- or proceed even further north on Menifee Road to Highway 74 -- avoiding the eastward detour on the winding, two-lane Lindenberger Road in the process.
The "missing link" project was listed with no start or completion date during an April 30 public works forum that outlined the schedule of road improvements in Menifee. Rancon purchased the land several years ago for its proposed Eldorado housing development but delayed the promised Menifee Road extension when the housing market slowed.
Noting that the bonds issued to finance that project were coming up for renewal, Johnson said city officials told Rancon they would pull the bonds and the city would build that stretch of road if the developer didn't begin the job by mid-August.
"They have to start it before Aug. 17, when the bonds come up again," Johnson said about the Menifee Road projects, which carries a price tag of $4 million. "We can't wait for property values to go up. We just can't wait anymore for that missing link.
"The city is entering into a private/public partnership with Eldorado LLC to get this done. We're trying to show developers that if they put in the infrastructure first, the buyers will come, rather than waiting for the buyers and then putting in the infrastructure."
Johnson said work on the Menifee Road missing link would take place between August and December -- at the same time a stretch of Newport Road to the east of Antelope Road is widened. Thus both projects would be completed before the Newport Interchange construction begins.
"This will improve traffic circulation in a very significant way," said Mayor Scott Mann.
"We made those promises that Holland would be built first," Edgerton admitted during Tuesday night's meeting. "We were all under the assumption there was a choice to do so. Since then, it has been made crystal clear to management that bad things might happen if we took the Holland project first."
As Johnson explained, the Newport Interchange project is ready to begin early next year for several reasons. The designs are completed, in addition to the legally required Environmental Impact Report -- a process that would take up to two years for the Holland Road overpass. In addition, he said, Riverside County has committed $12 million to the project and Menifee will be reimbursed for its $17 million share because the project was approved through the TUMF network.
Road projects approved by the county for the Transportation Uniform Mitigation Fee program receive funds generated through fees paid by local developers. According to Johnson, the county approved the Newport Interchange project because Newport Road is a vital connector road from Hemet west to Interstate 215 and 15. The proposed Holland Road overpass does not meet those requirements and thus is considered ineligible for TUMF funding.
Mann was a proponent of funding the Holland Road overpass project during his first term on city council from 2008-10. He said it was his belief that after he was voted off the council in 2010, the project had qualified for TUMF funding. That, he said, led to his confidence in promising the Holland Road overpass as top priority during the election campaign last fall.
"Based on what had happened when I was on council before, I thought the Holland overpass project was proceeding along its natural course," Mann said. "Nobody monitored it after that. I made that a campaign promise and it was a major goal. Then when we were preparing for the public workshop, we realized it isn't nearly that far along."
Johnson said that work on the design and funding of the Holland Road project has already begun. However, because of the time involved in completing designs, getting an EIR and finding sufficient funding, there is simply no way to move up the 2016 timetable. In fact, he said, if Menifee took the $17 million for which it will be reimbursed for work on the Newport Interchange and diverted it to the Holland overpass, the city would not only be ineligible for reimbursement, it would likely lose the county's $12 million commitment to Newport -- and the Holland project would still take three years.
"If you choose to put money into Holland from the (county) financing, Newport will not get built and neither will Holland for the next several years," Johnson said. "Do we know the traffic is bad? Yes. We're finally putting all the pieces together to address the situation. That wasn't done before."