Chain-link fencing, traffic cones and construction signs have long prevented vehicles from traveling under State Route 163 along a short stretch of Hazard Center Drive promised years ago to provide much needed relief for traffic congestion on roads surrounding shopping areas in Mission Valley.
On a recent Saturday morning, water pooled at the deepest point in the roadway, which lies adjacent to the San Diego River.
The never-before-used underpass, which in most respects appears ready for traffic, is in fact more than 30 years in the making. It’s been the subject of lawsuits, including one that dragged on for nearly a decade, an eye-sore to residents in the community and an enigma to those who have passed and wondered the obvious –– why isn’t it open?
Known officially as the westerly extension of Hazard Center Drive, the idea originated in the 1980s as a condition of the Hazard Center redevelopment project as the area was transitioning from a brickyard to a commercial center in a neighborhood known today for its sprawling parking lots and congested roads. The road extension was pitched as a way to reduce the traffic congestion predicted at the time and 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 that question and ended in a confidential settlement between two developers late last year. Which developer is responsible for paying for the road remains unknown to the public and the city.
Delays in the road’s opening have held up construction of a 473-unit residential building in Hazard Center. Meanwhile, Mission Valley’s population is expected to reach more than 70,000 by 2050, tripling from its 2012 population in four decades,further straining infrastructure in the area.
After years of assurances to the public that the underpass was months away from being opened, it remains as closed as ever to drivers. The city said it is not involved with the project and only responsible for inspecting the roadway before it’s opened.
The current owner of Hazard Center, who said he’s spent millions on the project, said the road could be just months away from completion, but residents aren’t so convinced.
“Why did they even spend the money to do it? What do they do with it?” Debbie Meyer, a 69-year-old Mission Valley resident said while on a walk with her husband.
“We have said that to one another a million times when we walked by here.”
From Bricks to Buildings
Hazard Center is a strip mall development boasting chain restaurants, shopping, a hotel, nail salon and more, nestled in the center of Mission Valley where State Route 163 crosses over the San Diego River. But in the 1980s, the area looked much different.
Hazard Center was in the midst of a transition from a brickyard to what city planners envisioned would be a “progressive mixed-use project combining shops and restaurants, a hotel, office tower and a multifamily residential neighborhood.”
The westerly extension of Hazard Center Drive, which once open will connect Hazard Center to Fashion Valley, was a part of that plan from nearly the beginning.
In 1987, the city approved plans for the redevelopment of Hazard Center with a requirement that when traffic on nearby roads reached a certain threshold, the developer –– R.E. Hazard Contracting Company, at that time –– would build the road extension to offset the predicted impacts on traffic that the new development would bring.
Before that could happen, the property changed hands several times over the next 15 years
In 2003, the current owner of Hazard Center, Principal Global Investors, bought the property with plans to build 473 new residential units on the land.
The city has made the completion of the Hazard Center Drive extension a condition of the project’s permit –– meaning they couldn’t break ground on the new housing units until the road was opened to the public.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of Citizens Journal