“If you see dust coming from this project call Woodside Homes,” read a sign hanging on a chain-link fence on Newport Road in Menifee.
In the current economy, it seemed like a cruel joke. Nothing has stirred behind that fence for months.
The site was to be the Audie Murphy Ranch, a housing project covering 991 acres on both sides of Newport Road along Railroad Canyon and Goetz roads in Menifee.
The housing project was to be an idyllic suburban paradise with an elementary and middle school, a community center, a network of hiking trails and at least two parks.
Then the housing market crashed. The tractors stopped in their tracks and all construction ceased.
Now, grasses and shrubs have settled on this once-rumbling construction site. The graded earth, which had been deep brown and carved into sharp angles, has become weathered mounds.
The project has stopped, possibly forever, leaving local residents with nothing to show for it but a fence lined with plastic and a makeshift detour around the site.
Yellow triangles on a traffic control sign flash at drivers approaching Audie Murphy on Railroad Canyon. Haggard, dull-orange bollards herd the traffic into two lanes as they pass the site. Signs order the drivers to slow to 25 mph.
Canyon Lake City Manager Lori Moss looked disheartened when she talked about the road. The city has been taking complaints from residents continuously since the beginning of the year, when construction stopped, she said.
The site broke ground more than three years ago and the detour has been in place since.
“This was supposed to be temporary,” said Juan Perez, the County of Riverside’s deputy director of transportation, as he pointed to a photo of the detour around the Audie Murphy site.
He sat in his office shuffling through a six-inch-thick pile of papers representing the preliminary plans for the project.
As part of the Audie Murphy plan, the developer was going to build a new road, called New Newport, to replace the current road.
It would connect to Railroad Canyon near the point at which it curves north around Canyon Lake and becomes Goetz. It would then take traffic through the Audie Murphy site and reconnect traffic to Newport near its intersection with Murrieta Road in Menifee.
The developer completed 80 percent of New Newport before finally pulling the tractors out of the site, Perez said.
The road needs several pipes installed underneath, another layer of asphalt in some places and, most problematically, to connect to the existing roads.
On July 23, Perez unveiled a plan to remedy the traffic problem in a presentation to the Menifee City Council. He proposed Menifee, Canyon Lake and the county coordinate their efforts and resources to complete New Newport.
The entire project will cost between $15 and $20 million, according to county documents.
Though the county’s taxpayers will be footing the bill for the project, the county should be able to recoup the losses, Perez said.
The county requires a developer to post bonds as a form of insurance against exactly the kind of situation that has arisen, he said. The county and the developer are currently talking to find out what the bond company will pay for and how much it will pay.
“It’s not unusual for the process to take two to three years,” Perez said of the negotiations. This, he said, is another reason to pay for it with local funds and collect money from the bonding company later.
Some of the developers’ outstanding debts have complicated matters dealing with payment, Perez said.
Some contractors have not yet received payment for jobs they did on the project and some of the money the county receives from the bonding company may have to pay those contractors.
Dennis Chapman, president of Brookfield California Land Holdings, LLC, the lead developer of Audie Murphy Ranch, was unavailable for comment.
Audie Murphy’s original plan would dismantle the parts of the current Newport Road lying west of La Ladera Road. The county’s new plan will leave the current Newport – which it will rename Normandy Road – in its place.
It will turn New Newport into a one-way street for eastbound traffic.
The plan is imperfect and presents numerous difficulties, Perez said, but it will be better than the current conditions.
One costly difficulty in the plan is to build a 200-foot-long bridge over Salt Canyon Creek, which currently runs under Railroad Canyon Road but floods frequently.
The bridge is necessary because of a 12-foot difference in New Newport and Railroad Canyon’s elevations.
Paying for the project presents yet another difficulty.
On Oct. 8, the City of Canyon Lake hired a contractor to prepare preliminary designs for the Railroad Canyon-New Newport extension.
A Canyon Lake staff report expressed the urgency the city feels for the project.
“When the traffic control plan for the road project was approved for Audie Murphy no one imagined the amount of time residents would have to bear the construction atmosphere,” it stated. “Time has wreaked havoc on the signage, striping, and bollards.”
The county has already allocated $4 million in Transportation Uniform Mitigation Fees to the project. Nonetheless, Perez refuses to start the project without securing the project’s funding and otherwise sorting out the financial details, he said.
“This is a very complicated and messy situation,” Perez said. “There’s a lot of complex parts that need to get worked out here.”
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