Road Construction Expands into Community Enrichment

Orange County Public Works partnered with the City of Costa Mesa to reconstruct roadway pavements, improve water-drainage and create an engaging neighborhood destination.

In August 2018, the office of Orange County District 2 received a collection of signatures from local residents to construct a “Pocket Park” on the Northeast corner of University Drive and Santa Ana Avenue in Costa Mesa, California. The Second District shared the signature list with Orange County Public Works (OCPW) in an effort to develop a project that would fulfill the request of the community. In addition to the park improvements, the project included pavement and drainage improvements, storm water quality and ADA ramps improvements at the intersection. The result? An upgraded location for safety, inclusion and community connection. 

The project, which started in January 2019 and completed in March 2021, involved an elaborate team of partners from the City of Costa Mesa and OC Parks Department to builder RJ Noble Company and engineer GHD Inc., along with OCPW. 

The goals were to reconstruct the roadway pavement, improve the local drainage system, upgrade all ramps to ADA compliance, add a fourth leg of the crosswalk and ultimately improve the visual appeal of the neighborhood by repurposing a vacant lot to create a “pocket park” to accommodate the community members request. 

Drainage had long been a problem at this intersection, with ponding water and flooding occurring during heavy rains. The existing drainage system was undersized, and needed to improve local drainage without excessively expanding the scope of the project. OCPW also installed new reinforced concrete pipe as part of the project’s drainage improvements.

The roadway pavement was due for maintenance, with some areas requiring full reconstruction. Due to pre-existing obstructions, such as utility poles and outdated catch basins, the intersection was missing one leg of the crosswalk. Also, the curb ramps needed to be upgraded to meet current ADA standards. 

According to OCPW, while planning for the roadway improvements, staff identified an opportunity to landscape an unused, county-owned parcel at the south east corner. It had remained vacant for several years and was used intermittently for construction staging by our OC Operations & Maintenance team. 

Around the same time frame, the community prepared a petition to build a “pocket park” at that same location. This petition was sent to the area’s elected representative on the County’s Board of Supervisors, who then reached out to OCPW to see if this was feasible. OCPW agreed to build the pocket park in lieu of the landscaping as originally planned. Residents were able to vote on what features they hoped to see in the park, as well as the overall look and layout. This provided many possible combinations for the designer to pursue.

“The neighbors were very supportive throughout the process and it felt great to partner with the community on the design, as we don’t always have the opportunity to do so with our day-to-day work in infrastructure,” said Melissa Pasa, MS, PMP, Project Manager, OC Infrastructure Programs at OCPW. “Usually the design is very prescriptive, but here we were able to take input directly from the people we serve. The community was such an integral part of the design team for this project.” 

OC Public Works admits that while it was unusual for the organization to include a new park as part of a roadway improvement project, it was a great cross-training experience for people who usually work on roads, bridges, and flood channels to learn about the design of parks. The fresh outlook, combined with the collaboration, provided the team an opportunity to engage with community members. “Really proud of the community involvement and level of outreach that we did” stated Pasa. “Being able to balance different needs [and] wants from the neighborhood. [The team showed] great problem solving and teamwork throughout the project, adapting and adjusting to challenges as they came up.” 

This project opened up a pathway for other possible park projects in the future. Pasa shared “Looking forward to partnering with OC Parks, as we have been working more closely together on projects; may have another opportunity to work together on another park in Tustin.”

The park packs in several features within a small space and incorporates sustainable elements that will help extend the park’s vitality and community usage over the years. Along with a native, drought-tolerant plant palette used throughout the park design, lightly colored playground surfaces was also integrated to minimize heat island effects and keep materials safe for use. Additionally, low-impact security lighting was installed and the team designed a water overflow into a drainage bio-swale that acts as a water quality feature around the parameter of the park.  

“I could not be more grateful for a project team that brought this reimagined space to life at a perfect time to reconnect with our fellow neighbors.”

-Melissa Pasa, MS, PMP, Project Manager, OC Infrastructure Programs at OCPW

While the project did encounter slight construction delays due to extended utility work and COVID-19 creating labor shortages at the start of the project with stay-at-home orders, the team was able to mitigate major impact with adequate contingency planning in place to deliver a project within budget. 

The park, which has proven to be popular with the local community since its opening, will continue to be a beacon of neighborhood connection and engagement. “One of my most cherished moments for this project was seeing a mom and her little girl sitting and watching the park construction from a curb across the way,” said Pasa. “This project was a collaboration with the entire community to plan and design it. I could not be more grateful for a project team that brought this reimagined space to life at a perfect time to reconnect with our fellow neighbors.”