Driving up investments
Lake Forest, Calif., officials started a project nearly 10 years ago to turn an aging but busy retail and commercial district into a vibrant downtown. Their first step was to relieve congestion on the primary roadway serving the area: El Toro Road. Long considered one of Orange County’s most congested streets, traffic planners projected that by 2025 the six-lane road would carry about 70,000 vehicles a day, up from 61,000 today. If major improvements were not made, the city’s vision for a vibrant commercial and business district at the social center of the community most likely would have been compromised by gridlock.
Through a series of workshops between October 1997 and March 1998, residents helped formulate a master plan for the redevelopment of the roadway and 856-acres that surround it. The starting point was the design and construction of the El Toro Road Traffic and Landscape Improvement Project, a one-mile stretch from the I-5 Freeway to Muirlands Boulevard.
The largest capital project since Lake Forest was incorporated in 1991, the $35 million roadway reconstruction had three main objectives: reduce traffic congestion, improve traffic safety and enhance aesthetics. To assist in the planning and development, the city retained Los Angeles-based Psomas Engineering to manage the roadway design and construction, and Costa Mesa, Calif.-based NUVIS Landscape Architecture & Planning to create landscape, hardscape and architectural elements.
The total number of travel lanes was increased from three lanes to four in each direction for one mile near I-5. New dedicated turn lanes were added to ease movement at several intersections throughout the shopping district. And, a new traffic signal system was installed that continually measures traffic conditions and adjusts signals for greatest efficiency.
The landscape design embraced the city’s agricultural legacy and called for 60,000 square feet of new landscaping, including 261 trees and 3,060 shrubs, to be planted along El Toro Road. It also included Craftsman-influenced design elements, median islands, planted parkways to provide a buffer between the sidewalk and the roadway, and pedestrian walkways and seating areas. The new downtown “gateway” entry consists of 25-foot-tall stone and metal towers on both sides of the road as well as pedestrian plazas, lush foliage and sheltered walkways.
Because of the roadway’s redevelopment, the business and retail area has attracted major new investments, including two large retail projects. City officials expect the new retail centers and related businesses to attract customers to other existing and new retail and commercial outlets along El Toro Road, creating an urban mix of offices, stores, restaurants, and civic and entertainment uses within a revitalized downtown environment.
— Robert Woodings, director of public works/city engineer for Lake Forest, Calif.
Road and landscape improvement
Lake Forest, Calif.
City Clerk and Redevelopment
State Department of Transportation and Orange County Transportation Authority
Los Angeles-based Psomas; Costa Mesa, Calif.-based NUVIS