Two meetings address I-5 widening

SOLANA BEACH — More than 300 people packed a meeting room at Solana Beach Presbyterian Church on Aug. 19 for an open forum designed to provide information on a proposal to expand Interstate 5 and better prepare participants for one of two remaining workshops hosted by the project’s lead agency, the California Department of Transportation.
Caltrans is proposing to widen a 27-mile stretch of I-5 from La Jolla to Oceanside at an estimated cost of $3 billion to $4.3 billion. Funding is coming from a variety of sources.
The environmental impact report, which was released in July, describes four alternatives that could expand the freeway to up to 14 general purpose and carpool lanes. There is also a no-build alternative, which Caltrans has opted for in the past, according to Alan Kosup, a Caltrans director.
“(People) should definitely take that seriously, “ Kosup told the Del Mar City Council at its Aug. 2 meeting. “Not doing anything impacts people (and the) economy. We have to weigh that.”
With the town hall meeting organized by two groups trying to stop the project — Citizens Against Freeway Expansion and Prevent Los Angeles Gridlock Usurping Environment, or CAFE and PLAGUE — most, if not all, attendees at that forum opposed the development.
Caltrans officials were invited but declined to attend, noting the agency was hosting the fourth of its five workshops Aug. 24 in Solana Beach.
Attending the town hall meeting were representatives from the offices of U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, state Sen. Christine Kehoe, Assemblyman Martin Garrick and Supervisor Pam Slater-Price, as well as city council members from most North County jurisdictions.
Guest speakers gave short presentations about how the expansion could affect air and noise pollution, greenhouse gas emissions and view corridors.
Addressing questions about visual blight a few days later at the Caltrans workshop, representatives said the highest wall would be 16 feet and plexiglass would be considered over concrete to avoid blocking views.
Many residents are also concerned because approximately 100 homes and 15 businesses along the corridor are subject to full or partial taking to accommodate the expansion. About 20 or 30 are in Solana Beach.
Steve Goetsch, CAFE chairman, said his group’s objection to the project is “fundamental.”
“SANDAG (the San Diego Association of Governments) authorized it in 2000, but only on property already owned by Caltrans,” said Goetsch, who is also president of Solana Beach’s Clean and Green Committee.
“Caltrans seems to have privately expanded the project to grotesque levels,” he said. “The projected length, duration and cost have exploded,” he said.
“We ask that Caltrans hit the reset button and rethink this project. The draft EIR is defective from beginning to end and should be withdrawn.”
“Widening I-5 is wiping out a small community in Oceanside,” said Erin Moran, a 10-year resident of that city. “They might be taking my house. They should focus on high-speed rail use and advanced technology instead of this mess.”
At the Caltrans meeting, Shay Lynn Harrison told one resident the project would provide transit opportunities.
Speaking at the CAFE/PLAGUE meeting, attorney Rachel Hooper called the expansion “a very misguided project” that “is not a done deal.”
“These projects actually can be stopped,” she said. “These projects are not set in stone. … They can be reversed. The agency must listen to the public.”
Hooper said she and her San Francisco firm — Shute, Mihaly & Weinberger — stopped a bypass freeway from being built in Carmel even though Caltrans owned the land. It took seven years, “but we won,” she said.
PLAGUE retained Shute, Mihaly & Weinberger earlier this year. Hooper said she is currently reviewing the EIR to ensure it complies with the California Environmental Quality Act. “If it doesn’t comply, we can bring a citizens lawsuit,” Hooper said.
Since the project is part of SANDAG’s regional transportation plan, Del Mar Councilwoman Crystal Crawford, who moderated the meeting, said it could be changed through that agency, which is currently updating the plan.
But Crawford said a majority of the county’s 18 jurisdictions must support any changes. And because the votes are weighted, at least some of that support must come from the larger cities. She said residents should talk to their council members.
Few would argue traffic congestion is a growing problem on I-5. Like Moran, many feel focusing on mass transit is a better option.
Duncan McFetridge, creator of Transit San Diego and president of the Cleveland National Forest Foundation, said the county should consider alternatives such as the 30/10 initiative, a Los Angeles plan aimed at creating 30 years of transit projects in 10 years.
The Solana Beach Caltrans workshop, also attended by about 300 people, included fliers, a video and poster boards to explain the project.
Few improvements have been made to the corridor since it was built in the 1960s and 1970s. It was not designed for current or projected demand.
For example, travel time from La Jolla to Oceanside is currently 25 minutes under free-flow conditions and 40 minutes during commute periods. By 2030, Caltrans estimates that trip could take nearly an hour.
At the Caltrans meeting, representatives answered general and specific questions at various stations that addressed everything from property acquisition to visual quality and urban design.
The final Caltrans presentation is Sept. 9 at Oceanside High School. People have until Oct. 7 to comment on the expansion.
Caltrans is required to respond to all comments submitted in writing. Pamela Epstein, an attorney with the Sierra Club, said remarks should be submitted as questions, otherwise Caltrans need only respond with, “Comment noted.”
Epstein is seeking an extension to the comment deadline, which is already longer than required.
It will likely be at least two years before any final decisions are made on the project.

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