Concept of traffic-easing bypass in city dates back to 1960s
By Janene Scully
Noozhawk North County Editor
A long-proposed Fjord Drive bypass recently included on a list of future Solvang projects raised concerns among residents although city leaders said July 26 the extension won’t happen anytime soon — if at all.
The concept of a Fjord Drive bypass, to avoid the traffic-clogged Mission Drive (Highway 246), dates back to the 1960s and has appeared in government documents since then. Depending on options, it has been dubbed either a bypass or an extension.
The project was included in a capital improvement program list presented last month to the council as a part of a budget process, but City Manager Xenia Bradford said on Monday that Solvang staff members aren’t working on the Fjord project.
“We are currently working on a Comprehensive General Plan update because we do recognize that many of our elements of the General Plan right now are outdated and need to be updated based on current conditions,” she said during the City Council meeting.
A General Plan serves as a blueprint for a city’s development for 20 to 30 years in the future, and whether the Fjord project remains could be decided during the process to update the plan.
The Fjord extension’s inclusion on the long-term list of capital improvement projects sparked an outcry from some neighbors, who sent emails to the City Council, prompting the item on Monday’s agenda.
Specifically, the budget document noted the Fjord Drive Extension and $5 million price tag to “extend Fjord Drive west from its existing terminus westerly across Adobe Creek and then north up to the intersection of Mission Drive & Skytt Mesa Drive.” On the list, it’s scheduled to occur after 2028.
“The Project is needed to reduce traffic on Mission Drive through downtown Solvang by providing a partial bypass for Solvang residents living south of Mission Drive,” the document stated. “The Project will also include creek restoration at its crossing with Adobe Creek by removing many years of concrete debris and restoring connection with the Santa Ynez River.”
Councilman Robert Clarke said the item went from a brief mention “to taking on a life of its own that we were going to start grading and putting in rest stops and gas stations on Fjord, all within three months.”
“It really took me by surprise,” added Clarke, who lives in the affected neighborhood.
Some residents called for eliminating the Fjord Drive proposal.
Peter Laird, who also lives near Fjord Drive, said a 2020 Santa Ynez Valley traffic study doesn’t mention a bypass or extension. The fact that the project appeared on the capital improvement project list proves the Fjord Drive issue wasn’t dormant, he added.
“Our position is it’s an active issue,” he said. “Otherwise, why would the city approve it in the capital improvement (program)?”
Lansing Duncan, a previous county planning commissioner, said the council should act cautiously in removing one project because of complaints from one neighborhood.
Traffic remains a top issue in the Santa Ynez Valley, Duncan said, adding it should best be assessed comprehensively through a General Plan process.
“It would be foolish and irresponsible for a council to throw out any puzzle piece or tool in your tool kit before you see the big picture in the General Plan update and the latest traffic information that will provide,” Duncan added.
Through the years, the proposal for Fjord Drive varied, including stretching Fjord to Alamo Pintado Road or Alisal Road. Since first being proposed, Alisal Golf Course has been built providing another potential roadblock.
Mayor Charlie Uhrig urged residents to participate in the General Plan process and said the council discussed the issue this week for transparency.
“This is not us that’s trying to initiate anything new,” Uhrig said. “This is stuff that’s been on the books before a lot of you actually even purchased your homes down there along that area.”
Work to update the Solvang General Plan is ongoing, with workshops held already and plans to hold others in the future. Information about the process can be found at PlanSolvang.com .