Cathedral City, already struggling with a lack of budget for road resurfacing, is trying to widen Varner Road. It shouldn’t.
This was originally published in The Desert Sun as an op ed on Sunday, May 7, 2023.
Varner Road from Bob Hope Drive to Palm Drive is an idyllic road — at 692 feet in elevation at its peak, it offers panoramic views of the Coachella Valley, from the San Gorgonio Mountains to the San Jacintos. It also is an important route to and from Desert Hot Springs to places like Palm Springs, Cathedral City, Rancho Mirage and Palm Desert.
In 2009, the city of Cathedral City adopted a “Comprehensive General Plan” that called for the annexation of unincorporated Riverside County land into the City; the basis of this annexation was a proposed 590 acre mixed use development by a private developer.
In their plan, it included extending Da Vall Drive north over the 10 Freeway, the creation of a new 4 lane “Major Highway” called Valley Center Boulevard that would run along the 10 Freeway, changing Varner Road to a “Modified Major Highway” with two lanes in each direction, and a number of new traffic signals and other roads.
While the development deal may have fallen apart, Cathedral City’s desire to widen Varner Road hasn’t. Despite average daily vehicle trips of less than 2,500 per day in each direction (a lane can accommodate approximately 800 vehicles per hour without traffic), the city seems hell bent on disturbing the natural setting along Varner Road and inducing more vehicles to drive on the road through widening. Even worse, the city’s plan of two lanes in each direction has now become a plan to widen the street to three lanes in each direction, exasperating the current maintenance issues the city has.
Anyone that has biked or driven through Cathedral City knows that many of its streets are not well maintained. Date Palm Drive, Ramon Road, and Varner Road are three examples of roads that result in cars being damaged and posing unnecessary hazards to cyclists and pedestrians with broken and uneven pavement. Why would a city that is already struggling to find funds to maintain its existing road network want to expand that network with the additional maintenance burden that comes with it?
Maybe someday there will be developer demand to build along Varner Road within Cathedral City limits, but today the demand simply doesn’t exist. When Cathedral City decided to annex acres in part of the Coachella Valley that currently has no residences or businesses, it also took on maintenance responsibility over the road network. The city should not try to widen a road that does not need to be widened based on current traffic volumes. Instead, it should simply repave the existing Varner Road, making it safer for drivers and cyclists; this should not require online petitions and political pressure, it’s simply the city’s basic responsibility. Leaving the road one lane in each direction will not expand the maintenance burden it is already failing to meet.