COAST CITIES — After considering nearly 20 alternatives to fully connect Interstate 5 and state Route 56, staff at the California Department of Transportation narrowed them down to five choices, including a no-build option, that were presented at a June 13 workshop during which community members could view each proposal, ask questions and provide feedback.
When Caltrans was designing SR-56 in the mid-1980s, land use east of the interstate was different, Allan Kosup, the I-5 corridor director for Caltrans, said.
There were no homes and the demand was to get downtown from the east, he said.
So the interchange was built without ramps to directly connect southbound I-5 to eastbound SR-56 or westbound SR-56 to northbound I-5.
“At the time it was just too expensive,” Kosup said. “We can all argue whether that decision was right or wrong (but) a lot of things have changed.”
For more than 10 years Caltrans, the San Diego Association of Governments and the city of San Diego have been studying a proposed project to address mobility at the interchange and conducting public workshops to create options.
Visual, noise and right-of-way impacts were the issues “that percolated to the top,” Kosup said.
Based on those concerns, 17 alternatives were developed and all eventually but five were eliminated.
Of those, the first would connect westbound SR-56 to northbound I-5 and southbound I-5 to eastbound SR-56 with two-lane, freeway-to-freeway ramps that would add two lanes on westbound SR-56 and one lane on the eastbound side between Carmel Country Road and El Camino Real at a cost of about $260 million.
The second option adds an auxiliary lane on southbound I-5 between Del Mar Heights and Carmel Valley roads and includes improvements on westbound SR-56 for an estimated cost of $100 million.
The third proposal is a hybrid of the first two plans, connecting westbound SR-56 to northbound I-5 with a two-lane, freeway-to-freeway ramp.
It adds an auxiliary lane on southbound I-5 between Del Mar Heights and Carmel Valley roads as well two lanes on westbound SR-56 and one lane on eastbound SR-56 between Carmel Country Road and El Camino Real for an estimated $170,000 million.
Plan four, called the hybrid with a flyover, connects westbound SR-56 to northbound I-5 with a two-lane, freeway-to-freeway ramp.
It includes a connector ramp from eastbound Carmel Valley Road to eastbound SR-56 and adds an auxiliary lane on southbound I-5 between Del Mar Heights and Carmel Valley roads.
This option would also add two lanes on westbound SR-56 and one lane on eastbound SR-56 between Carmel Country Road and El Camino Real, all at a cost of about $205 million to $225 million.
All proposed alternatives would replace and enhance the Del Mar Heights Road overcrossing and include operational improvements at existing ramps and intersections in the project area.
Kosup said 20 technical studies were conducted that looked at all alternatives equally to determine environmental effects, costs and benefits.
The plans were developed to be sensitive to the community and environment while addressing regional connectivity and local congestion.
According to the studies, all proposed build options would reduce travel times, congestion and cut-through traffic in the surrounding neighborhoods and maintain or reduce noise levels over what currently exists, although to what extent depends on the alternative selected.
There would be no impact to wetlands or threatened or endangered plants or animals.
According to Caltrans handouts, no homes would be taken, but there could be between 15 and 27 partial residential land acquisitions and four to 15 partial business land acquisitions depending on the alternative selected.
“There is no preferred alternative at this point,” Kosup said. “There’s no perfect alternative.”
He said by using community input to develop the alternatives, Caltrans created options “that I never thought we would do,” such as the two hybrid plans.
“Those both came up through the community process,” he said.
Approximately $15.8 million has been programmed for the project through federal and local funds. It is included in TransNet, a voter-approved, half-cent tax for transportation projects.
While there is no preferred build alternative at this point, Kosup said travel times and cut-through traffic will double by 2030 “if we do nothing.”
For daily commuters, that can’t be an option. They said relief transitioning from the two roadways is desperately needed.
John Fiscella, who lives a mile from the project area, said he favors the second option, although he is doubtful it will help because, he said, the studies are incomplete.
“They aren’t presenting all the information,” he said. “They only show peak travel times in one direction.
“Why didn’t they just put onramps in both directions in the first place?” he asked. “It’s the stupidest thing I ever saw in my life.”
Ursula Krane, who also lives near the area, is skeptical as well.
“I think it’s past the point where anything will help,” she said. “They did all that work on (Interstate 15) and it’s not working there. “(The connectors) should have been done when it was built, and we should have more public transportation.”
The draft environmental impact report was released for public review on May 18. The deadline to comment on the proposed options has been extended to July 17.
If all goes as planned, construction would begin between 2020 and 2030 and take two years to complete.
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