A long-awaited Mission Valley underpass remains unfinished

A road sign warns of the possibility of flooding on an underpass that was never open to traffic in the San Diego Mission Valley neighborhood on March 5, 2022. (Brittany Cruz-Fejeran / inewsource)

Chain fencing, traffic cones and license plates have long prevented vehicles from traveling down State Route 163 along a small section of Hazard Center Drive that promised years ago to provide much-needed traffic relief. congestion on the streets around shopping areas in Mission Valley.

One late Saturday morning, water gathered at the deepest point of the road, along the San Diego River.

The underpass that was never used, which in most respects seems ready for traffic, is actually over 30 years in the pipeline.

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It has been the subject of lawsuits, including one that lasted for almost a decade, a wound to the eyes for the residents of the community and an enigma to those who went through and wondered the obvious – why is it not open?

Formally known as the western extension of Hazard Center Drive, the idea began in the 1980s as a precondition for the Risk Center renovation project, as the area was transformed from a masonry to a shopping mall in a neighborhood. known today for its large parking lots and crowded streets. The widening of the road was designed as a way to reduce congestion that was envisaged then and is affecting the area now.

But as the property passed through the hands of various developers, the question of who exactly was responsible for building the road became more complicated.

An eight-year legal battle ensued to answer this question and resulted in a confidential settlement between two developers late last year. Which developer is responsible for paying the road remains unknown to the public and the city.

Delays in the opening of the road suspended the construction of a 473-unit residential building at the Hazard Center. Meanwhile, Mission Valley’s population is expected to reach 70,000 by 2050, tripling the population of 2012 in four decades, further burdening the area’s infrastructure.

After years of assurances to the public that the underpass was months away from opening, it remains as closed to drivers as ever. The city said it was not involved in the project and was only responsible for inspecting the road before it opened.

The current owner of the Hazard Center, who said he has spent millions on the project, said the road may be just months away from completion, but residents are not so convinced.

“Why did they spend the money to do it? What do they do with it? ” Debbie Meyer, a 69-year-old Mission Valley resident, said as she walked with her husband.

“We have told each other millions of times when we passed through here.”

From bricks to buildings

The Hazard Center is a shopping mall with restaurant chains, shops, a hotel, a nail salon and more, located in the center of Mission Valley, where State Route 163 crosses the San Diego River. But in the 1980s, the area looked very different.

The Hazard Center was in the middle of a transition from a brick to what city planners envisioned to be a “progressive mixed-use project that combines shops and restaurants, a hotel, an office tower and a multi-family residential neighborhood.”

The western expansion of Hazard Center Drive, which once opened will connect Hazard Center with Fashion Valley, was part of this plan almost from the beginning.

In 1987, the city approved plans to renovate the Risk Center, requiring that when traffic on nearby roads reached a certain level, the manufacturer –– RE Hazard Contracting Company, at the time –– would build the road extension for to offset the projected impact on traffic that the new development would have.

Before that happened, the property changed hands several times over the next 15 years

In 2003, the current owner of the Hazard Center, Principal Global Investors, bought the property with plans to build 473 new housing units on the plot.

The city has set the completion of the Hazard Center Drive expansion as a condition of the project permit –– which means they could not break ground in the new housing units until the road is open to the public.

Three lawsuits filed between 2005 and 2017, which have since been closed, involve Principal Global Investors, the former owner of Connecticut General Life Insurance Company, a subsidiary of Cigna and the city in disputes that lead to the question of who should be responsible for financing and construction of the road extension.

The Connecticut General Life Insurance Company initially agreed to build the road when it sold the property to Principal Global Investors, but later told the court that unforeseen complications in the area planned for the road now made it almost impossible to build.

Sometime between late 2017 and early 2018, Principal Global Investors began road construction and sued Connecticut General Life Insurance Company over construction costs.

By 2021, legal battles for the expansion of Hazard Center Drive between the two developers have ended in court with a confidential settlement.

Media contacts for the Connecticut General Life Insurance Company parent did not respond to a request for comment.

Neither party is allowed to discuss the terms of the settlement in public, but Mike Benson, managing director of assets at Principal Global Investors, which now owns the Hazard Center through an affiliated LLC, said he is working with a construction company to finish the road.

“We want it to open more than anyone else,” Benson said.

Chain fencing and construction signals block vehicle access to the Hazard Center Drive underpass in the San Diego Mission Valley neighborhood on March 5, 2022. (Brittany Cruz-Fejeran / inewsource)

Benson said the COVID-19 lawsuits and pandemic had delayed progress on the road, which he said had “lasted much longer than it should” and that in turn has hampered progress in the housing complex.

He said he was “optimistic and optimistic that we can open it in the next month or two” – all that is needed is a spare part for the pumping system – but that the opening will also depend in part on the completion of the city inspections.

Tyler Becker, San Diego’s public information officer, said the ball is currently in the developer’s court.

“The developer must complete and obtain acceptance from the city for the Storm Pump Station and some other details before the expansion opens to the public.” Once that happens, the city will be responsible for road maintenance, Becker said.

When it rains, it floods

Most San Diego residents know this very well –– in Mission Valley, when it rains, it floods.

Roads such as the Avenida del Rio, which crosses the San Diego River and connects the Valley of Fashion with the Camino de la Reina, are flooded to the point of closing after the rain. With more heavy rains, the city closes the roads in the area flood expectation.

In the past, floods in Mission Valley have led to rescues and evacuations of the residents.

All of this makes underpass construction more complicated, said Rob Hutsel, president and CEO of the San Diego River Park Foundation. Developers who want to build in Mission Valley have to build around floods while mitigating harmful effects such as river pollution.

“Historically, development has been allowed in the Mission Valley in such a way that the river and aquifer are affected by this development,” Hutsel said.

However, the expansion of the Risk Center could provide an opportunity to rethink older roads such as the Avenida del Rio, Hutsel said –– if the Risk Center can be opened to the public while facing floods and potential impacts on the San River habitat. Diego.

The morning after Fashion Valley received about half an inch of rain in early March, water collected in the deepest part of the underpass.

Celina Watson, a 19-year-old resident of Otay Ranch, said she had seen the underpass flooded again.

Watson takes the trolley to Fashion Valley and sometimes walks through Hazard Center Drive on her way and wonders why it is always closed.

“There is no sign or anything like that, so I thought it was for safety or something,” he said.

Rainwater collected at the deepest point of the Hazard Center Drive underpass the next day of a light storm in the San Diego Mission Valley neighborhood on March 5, 2022. (Brittany Cruz-Fejeran / inewsource)

Despite barriers to building in Mission Valley, the community is likely to continue to grow, according to a 2019 Environmental Impact Report which predicted that the population in Mission Valley would add 50,000 by 2050.

That means more people are using roads and bridges in the Mission Valley to get around, and for more than 30 years, the Hazard Center Drive extension is part of a solution to reducing congestion in the area that residents like Meyer said have gets hurt.

“You can not even believe the traffic at the Camino de la Reina in the afternoon during travel time and at the weekend,” said Meyer, who has lived in Mission Valley for six years.

Meyer said it would be “unbelievable” if the road were opened.

Brian Mooney, senior vice president at Rick Engineering Company, said much has changed in the way urban planners develop cities since the expansion of the Risk Center was first designed as a solution to traffic in the area.

Newer design thinking, which takes into account the environment and pedestrian traffic, may conflict with older designs and raise new questions about projects envisioned years ago, Mooney said.

The connectivity that the Hazard Center Drive extension will provide makes sense for the area, but, he said, “it’s like trying to build something in the ocean. “Trying to build something next to a river – which creates a whole level of complication due to environmental factors.”

A long-awaited Mission Valley underpass remains unfinished Source link A long-awaited Mission Valley underpass remains unfinished

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