Progress at the Park
With such eye-catching additions to the park in the offing, it’s easy to overlook incremental infrastructure additions at the Great Park. But while new and improved roads, intersections and bike lanes may not have the obvious appeal of soccer stadiums and live music amphitheaters, visitors to the Great Park should be pleased to know that the quality of access to the park has just improved exponentially.
For some years the only pubic entrance to the Orange County Great Park was via Marine Way, a somewhat awkwardly placed street located off of Sand Canyon and the 5 Freeway. Regulars knew it well, but it was easy to observe the confusion of first-timers trying to access the entrance. Suffice it to say the first impression of the park wasn’t that great.
When the Marine Way entrance closed for construction last July, the situation went from acceptable to down right annoying. The main entrance into the Great Park was switched to Trabuco Road, which the Irvine City Council voted unanimously to rename as Great Park Boulevard for the stretch between Sand Canyon and the Great Park.
That first stretch of the new access was fine: a four-lane, median-divided Great Park Blvd. is worthy of Irvine. But then one turned right onto a narrow, dark and bumpy road with two oddly-placed stop signs, including one where our friends in the Irvine Police Department always sat, insuring no one rolled through the second stop sign. Then one was required to wind through a curving course of cones and barriers marking a route through the Squadron Parking Lot, where one could park or drive farther to the Sports Lawn lots.
At night, the route was dark and winding and decidedly not worthy of an Irvine destination.
But now, all that has changed. Marine Way is reopened, with the addition of a four-lane nicely landscaped extension that goes straight where the two-lane Marine Way used to curve along the perimeter of the park. Life will be much easier for those going to work or volunteer at the Second Harvest Food Bank facility. While Marine Way was closed, access was from the other side of the park. Now, the widened stretch of Marine Way is a much quicker connection, though the four lanes return to two just a bit before Second Harvest.
One point to make is that the Marine Way improvements don’t yet extend to Sand Canyon. They begin around where the guard shack used to be.
The less-publicized extension of Ridge Valley is as, or more, important than Marine Way. Now, Ridge Valley runs from Irvine Blvd. along the west edge of the Great Park through the Great Park Neighborhoods of Beacon Park and the newly opened Parasol Park, intersecting with Great Park Blvd. and extending past where the Ducks ice complex will soon be under construction, and finally connecting to a new intersection with Marine Way.
Confused? Don’t be. Just go drive it. Now, those coming from the north or south have choices in how to access the amenities at Orange County Great Park.
With the re-opening of a much-improved Marine Way and the extension of Ridge Valley, the access to the park is so much improved that these streets should be celebrated.
More road improvements are imminent, with extensions providing easy access to the Sports Park parking lots. Still to come is the improvement and realignment of the first stretch of Marine Way between Sand Canyon and the new intersection with Ridge Valley. The city and Heritage Fields have an agreement in place to acquire right of way from Orange County Transportation Authority, which has its Bus Base facilities along that stretch. The memorandum of understanding between the city and the Great Park developer includes a $10 million contribution from Heritage Fields in 2018 toward acquiring the right of way.
The new stretch of Marine Way past where the guard shack used to be is a lovely bit of road, with landscaping and wide bike lanes. One can imagine the road being on the route of 5K runs through the park, and eventually drawing weekend cyclists off of Irvine Blvd., especially once Marine Way’s improvements extend toward the far side of the park.
And perhaps beyond: a connection to Jeronimo Road looks practical, providing a potential new access point to the Orange County Great Park. We’ll also pass along a request to extend the dead end of Technology Dr. over the railway and into the Great Park, link up to Marine Way and Ridge Valley.
While we wouldn’t want to see the Great Park show up on Waze as a way around traffic jams, the new infrastructure improvements do foreshadow the day when the Orange County Great Park’s many amenities will be accessible to all, as it takes its place as Irvine’s most important public place.