Should a dangerous road belong to the city or the state? On March 15, the Coronado City Council took up the topic of AB 2075, a bill that seeks to relinquish State Route 75 to the cities of Coronado, Imperial Beach, and San Diego, allowing more local control of streets.
SR-75 begins on the Coronado bridge, which has a posted speed limit of 50 miles per hour. The thoroughfare pours onto Coronado's Third Street, where traffic tends to slow very little, despite a speed limit of almost half that of the bridge segment.
The bill that would provide for the relinquishment of SR-75 by Caltrans was initiated by Imperial Beach in order to carry out its corridor master plan. Only Coronado has resisted taking over its sections of the road.
In recent years, the high speed of traffic on Fourth Street has resulted in serious head injuries for two teens and taken the life of a 70-year-old man who tried to walk across. While accidents have long plagued the corridor — which feeds to and from the Navy base — the deadlier accidents took place in 2014, 2015, and 2016.
“This roadway has become increasingly dangerous over the past few years,” said resident Kim Schmid, whose son, the latest injury statistic, was struck by a car while emptying the trash. She urged the council to accept the relinquishment, saying Caltrans “has let it be known that they have little interest in making any changes that help the safety of our community.”
Last June, only a few weeks after the pedestrian was run down, Caltrans proposed raising the speed limit from 25 to 30 miles an hour along the busy road — a move some traffic studies have shown increases accidents and fatalities. The rationale: adherence to a formula the state relies on to enable safe traffic flow.
Coronado mayor Casey Tanaka opposed the increase, which has since taken effect, but said the council had no control over the outcome.
Now, under the current proposal, SR-75, excluding the bridge and toll plaza, would become mainly the town’s problem — or solution. Some residents have blamed restrictive state-highway law for blocking improvements that could make their streets safer, such as flashing pedestrian lights and speed bumps.
“We can run our own city,” said Toni McGowan, who lives on Third Street and was at the meeting to urge the council to support the bill. When Coronado wants to do anything, “we always hear Caltrans, Caltrans, Caltrans.”
However, not all residents want the changes meant to enhance safety on Third and Fourth streets. Some have fought against stop lights near their homes; others aren’t happy about the costs of maintaining SR-75, which stretches 12 miles through Coronado but only 1 mile each in San Diego and Imperial Beach.
“One man's relinquishment is another man's dumping,” said Coronado Cays resident Erline Rogerson. “We have to realize SR-75 is not just the Third and Fourth street corridor. It’s also the Silver Strand, and the Navy will be increasing their traffic.”
Caltrans has offered to provide an evaluation of the road’s condition but isn’t obligated to repair the street before relinquishing it.
The cost of lawsuits also came up. Councilmember Carrie Downey said she hasn’t kept track of the number of accidents on Third and Fourth streets but that anytime one does happen anywhere on SR-75, there’s a lawsuit; that, in turn, raises insurance costs. One family member of an accident victim noted “the great liability in doing nothing.”
Weighing in on the origin of the bill, Tanaka said Imperial Beach handled relinquishment “the right way.” They want it for themselves. The wrong approach, in Tanaka’s opinion, “Let I.B. trigger your process for you.” It makes sense for others, he said, but is “absolutely the wrong path for Coronado.”
The father of one of the teens hit by cars said he thinks Coronado was added “in response to a meeting at our house after our son’s accident.” The bill’s author, Assembly member Toni Atkins, “was sympathetic that Coronado could do more than Caltrans.”
With the options to support, oppose, amend, or remain neutral, the council chose to amend — asking that Coronado be removed from the bill.
UPDATE 3/22, 8:15 a.m.
After this story was published on March 21, two accidents occurred on Fourth Street, one involving a bicyclist.
(corrected 3/22, 1:50 p.m.)