Norco College is at odds with some residents, city elected officials and the Navy over its plans to build a second road in and out of the campus to improve traffic.
College President Bryan Reece is restarting a push for another access road to unclog traffic jams at the only entrance and exit to the campus at Third Street off Hamner Avenue. Efforts to build another road were unsuccessful about a decade ago.
Congestion in early mornings and late afternoons backs up traffic on Hamner and surrounding streets, causing delays and public safety concerns. Making the problem worse, Reece said, is the 13,000-student college expects to increase enrollment by 3,000 to 5,000 in the next five or six years.
“We get a tremendous number of complaints from residents, employees and students about existing traffic,” Reece said. “We need to come up with a solution to address it.”
Six routes have been discussed during nine community meetings since March. An ad-hoc committee including elected officials from the city of Norco, Corona-Norco Unified School District and Riverside Community College District was created to try to reach a consensus. The next step, Reece said, is a “deep” study looking at cost, funding sources, traffic impacts and other issues before a preferred option is selected.
Four of the proposed connections to the college — Mountain Avenue, Pacific Avenue, Belgian Drive and Western Avenue – would run through or likely increase traffic in neighborhoods, states a summary of the options given to the panel.
“We would be a cut through on a downhill with speed if cars were allowed to exit on Belgian,” said Dan Ostrosky, who has lived on Dales Drive for 25 years. “You couple that with youth and fancy cars and that’s a prescription for disaster.”
Ostrosky said he’s worried his and other residents’ quality of life and property values would suffer.
The other two options being considered — Fourth and Market streets — might disturb Navy equipment during construction or require the use of Navy property and add congestion at the base entrance.
The Navy, which has a warfare assessment center north of the campus, opposes any road that could affect its operations.
The Navy “has worked with the college on providing an emergency exit route through the base in the event of an evacuation,” Gregg Smith, spokesman for the Naval Weapons Station Seal Beach, which covers the Norco base, said in a statement. “However, a daily public transit route through the base would be incompatible with Navy security requirements.”
Norco Mayor Greg Newton and City Councilman Kevin Bash said they oppose any route that goes through residential areas.
“I want to see the college succeed,” Newton said. “Education is important, but so are our residents.”
The city doesn’t have the money to widen or improve roads, he added.
Of the six alternatives, a survey of 251 people who attended the community meetings found the most support for extending Market Street to the college. That option involves using Corona-Norco Unified property and moving buildings belonging to the school district.
John F. Kennedy Middle College High School, part of the Corona-Norco district, is on the Norco College campus but in a different area on Third Street.
In an email, a Corona-Norco official would not answer questions about whether the district has a position on a second access road.
“Whatever solution is decided will be the best for students and the community,” wrote Judy Now, the district’s chief of staff for executive services.
Newton said Norco College should build a satellite campus in the south Corona area because that’s where most of its students live.
Reece said the college has had initial discussions with the city of Corona and developers on a location for a south Corona campus. But that could take “decades” to become reality, he said.
“Our problem with traffic is immediate,” Reece said. “We’re looking for a solution that is $10 million to $15 million, not $200 million.”