Picturesque Highway Now an Eyesore

Caltrans says safety, not aesthetics, is number one priority on Highway 163

Have you driven on Highway 163 through the Balboa Park corridor lately? The stretch of highway was, at one time, a picturesque gateway in and out of San Diego.

Oh, how have things changed.

"It’s just been a mess," said Bruce Coons of the Save Our Heritage Organisation. "There are tall weeds, tall grass, it doesn't look like they're taking care of it at all, and some of the trees they did plant are dead."

Coons was worried it would end up like this.

Back in 2004, Caltrans was concerned about the growing number of serious accidents along the highway. It was beautiful, but extremely dangerous. The solution was to put up a wooden guardrail along both sides of the highway median.

"We will have a beautiful corridor, but its going to be a real safe corridor", a Caltrans spokesperson proclaimed at a news conference along the highway. The guardrails would also protect crews in charge of maintaining the highway landscaping.

Six years later, the project is considered a success in terms of safety. A Caltrans spokesperson says there have not been any fatal accidents since the rails were put up. But there's a problem with those rails.

"What wound up happening is that they limited access for our crews," said Edward Cartagena, a Caltrans spokesman. "So, it was actually decided to move from the nicely manicured area to something less labor intensive, which would be the grassy area we have now."
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Cartagena says the highway has gone to a 'meadow' look as opposed to a 'golf course' look. But Coons, with the Save Our Heritage group, says Caltrans has gone back on a promise to keep the stretch of highway maintained.

"That was one of the big benefits of getting the guardrails. They would be able to maintain it better and keep it beautiful and obviously they haven't done it," said Coons. "I think it's a travesty. It was the main entrance to San Diego, the most beautiful entrance to any city I can think of and they're just not taking care of it."

The trade off is a much safer, though not a picturesque highway, according to Caltrans. Coons says his group will continue to apply pressure and is hopeful the public will back him in his drive.

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