San Diego

Imperial Beach Boulevard Getting Green Makeover

Warning: Reading this article may cause a strong urge to abandon your office, rent a beach cruiser and spend the afternoon in Imperial Beach.

But, not so fast.

Because big changes are coming to Imperial Beach Boulevard that will soon improve your ride through the small seaside community, and improve access to its spectacular estuary, where salty ocean water and fresh river water mingle when the Tijuana River meets the Pacific Ocean.

The City of Imperial Beach recently received $5.5 million in grants to renovate one of its main traffic arteries with bike and pedestrian-friendly upgrades. The city plans to add $211,000 to those funds.

The grant and city reserve funding will pay for bike lanes, 50 more parking spots along the city’s main west-to-east thoroughfare, eco-friendly landscaping and a more natural stormwater management system.

The City Council approved the updated design plans at a meeting Wednesday night, according to Mayor Serge Dedina. An executive summary of the project and mobility assessment can be found online.

The Imperial Beach Boulevard Enhancement project will add green landscape that naturally filters stormwater before it reaches the protected estuary, and it will reallocate one vehicular lane to calm traffic around schools, according to the online summary.

The project originally started as a way to provide safe routes to school for high school and middle school students between Seacoast Drive and 13th Street. Both Mar Vista High and Imperial Beach Charter School are located on the street.

“Imperial Beach Boulevard currently doesn’t have any bike lanes,” said Director of Public Works Eric Minicilli. “The sidewalks are very narrow. Most are five feet or less in width. So, the idea was to do improvements to the roadway to address those concerns.”

But then, the grants came in much larger than expected, Minicilli said, allowing the city to make even more improvements, including “some very exciting things related to the estuary especially.”

Minicilli said that could include a boardwalk along the Tijuana Estuary - a vast 2,500 acre federally protected wetlands reserve, which lies between the U.S. Mexico border and the city.

Imperial Beach resident Dr. Hans Bertsch, a marine biologist, lives directly across from the Tijuana Estuary. He said he initially had reservations about the project, but after looking at the plans carefully, he said he supports it.

“It’s making (the estuary) more accessible to other people,” Bertsch said. “There’s a definite connection between having accessibility to wildlife and green areas and people’s mental health. And if we can help the mental health of the people of San Diego with the beauty that we have down here, then that’s what life’s about, is sharing that with people.”

The work will begin January 2019 and take about nine months to complete, Minicilli said.

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