The County of San Diego has been working with the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the California Department of Fish and Game to incorporate potential improvements to State Route 76 (SR 76) into the North County Plan and the proposed San Luis Rey River Park Master Plan. The proposal is to secure coverage for the highway in the North County Plan in order to provide a more efficient process for dealing with the biological issues at the time the road is constructed.
On March 11, 2003 the San Diego County Board of Supervisors allocated $500,000 to begin planning efforts for the San Luis Rey River Park. The San Luis Rey River is poised to become a cultural, recreational, and ecological focal point of San Diego County. The San Luis Rey River Park Master Plan will establish the framework for the acquisition and development of a river park within an 8-mile, 1500-acre corridor of the San Luis Rey River. The project may incorporate riparian and floodplain restoration, preservation, recreational needs, and natural/cultural resource education and conservation. Preparation of the draft master plan is currently in progress.
The intent is that an impact assessment and mitigation process be included in the North County Plan to incorporate planned resolution of environmental issues associated with CEQA/NEPA and the state and federal endangered species acts, for improvements to SR 76. This resolution would include acquisition of lands for mitigation that could become part of the San Luis Rey River Park. Caltrans is considering the following alternatives for road improvements to SR 76: 1) utilize the existing alignment on the north side of the San Luis Rey River and widen the road or 2) construct an alignment on the south side of the San Luis Rey River.
There are several natural resource issues associated with SR 76 and the San Luis Rey River. The river itself is an impaired waterway and is prone to large-scale flows during heavy rains, as witnessed during January 2005. Within the river and in the surrounding natural landscape exist a number of rare, threatened, and endangered species including: least Bell’s vireo, Southwestern willow flycatcher, Arroyo toad, California gnatcatcher, and San Diego ambrosia. The potential improvements to SR 76 would have a significant impact on all of these resources. Mitigation for these impacts would likely include providing replacement habitat, noise shielding, under-crossings, habitat maintenance and safe passage between the riparian and adjacent upland habitats.
The primary goals of this coordinated effort are to:
- Provide certainty and a streamlined process for planning and construction of SR 76 from Mission Road to I-15.
- Provide a mechanism for SR 76 to contribute to assembly of the San Luis Rey River Park and North County Plan preserve.
- Develop design criteria to protect native species.