Bumper-to-bumper traffic that regularly afflicts a portion of the 15 Freeway in the Temecula Valley can be a major cause of frustration to commuters, but city leaders fear traffic issues will impact more than just people’s nerves.
Temecula City Councilmember Mike Naggar said heavy traffic could impede the growth of Southwest Riverside County’s tourism economy, prevent people in important professions from moving to the area and hinder future economic development.
With those concerns in mind, Naggar and fellow Councilmember Matt Rahn invited officials from several other cities as well as representatives from the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians to Temecula City Hall for the first of multiple meetings to develop a game plan for improving traffic.
The group specifically looked at a portion of the 15 which runs from the Riverside-San Diego County border to the 215 Junction in Murrieta. That area has been notorious for backups both in the morning and during evening rush hour.
Wineries, shopping centers and entertainment venues in Temecula and nearby cities anchor a strong tourism economy in the region, but Naggar said those places could lose business if people from outside the region find travel times prohibitive.
“We’re worried that it’s only as good as people’s ability to get here and utilize it,” Naggar said.
He said that in the same way traffic may dissuade a tourist from driving to the area, it could prevent the people capable of bringing high-tech and medical jobs to the region from moving there.
“If they come out to this community – your community, our community – and they just fall in love with it, but they find they have to commute to San Diego and it takes an hour and a half, or just around town it takes 40 minutes to go 6 miles, this becomes not such an attractive place to live,” he said.
Some of the ideas suggested for improving the traffic situation included supporting a grassroots effort on the part of citizens, working in concert with local agencies such as the Riverside County Transportation Commission and going to Sacramento and Washington, D.C. to plead a case for why traffic issues on the freeway need to be addressed.
Councilmember Rahn stood firmly in favor of a strong public outreach campaign.
“That needs to be something that everybody can get behind,” Rahn said. “That there’s a website where people can sign onto this, where our citizenry actually understands the issue and can get engaged and talk to the right people … That’s really where the value comes in.”
Lake Elsinore Mayor Bob Magee suggested a “nuclear option” which involved reaching out to President Donald Trump.
“Why don’t we look at an executive order?” Magee asked. “Why don’t we think about a state of emergency for our quality of life and our people here? We’re talking about a state of emergency for job creation, about health and environmental impacts and about public safety.”
The group of city leaders is expected to meet again in January, when they will work out the details of becoming a formal task force.