OCEANSIDE — Deputy Mayor Chuck Lowery presented an overview of plans for the Interstate 5/state Route 78 interchange to Oceanside Chamber of Commerce last week.
Lowery was invited to speak on the topic because he has attended SANDAG board meetings, community meetings and met privately with Caltrans and SANDAG about the interchange.
Lowery said he has attended well over a dozen meetings on the topic that is of key interest to Oceanside residents.
David Nydegger, chamber president and CEO, said there has been community opposition to early designs of the interchange that spills freeway traffic into a South Oceanside residential neighborhood.
“Where else do you find a freeway that dead ends into a stoplight?” Nydegger asked prior to the meeting. “There’s strong (community) opposition to the interchange for a lot of reasons.”
Lowery said his concerns are the towering ramp heights, greenhouse gas impacts and speed of traffic entering south Oceanside. He said he has asked Caltrans and SANDAG how these impacts will be mitigated and has not received an answer.
Uncertainty has led to more questions.
“There’s general agreement something has to be done, but there’s not a solid plan yet,” Marva Bledsoe, chamber board of directors executive committee member, said. “Flyovers create issues with many people, but there does not seem to be a lot of room on the ground.”
At the Chamber of Commerce meeting Lowery shared that Caltrans developed four interchange designs. There are also 13 additional designs being looked at by Caltrans following community and Community Working Group input, as well as the option of no build.
Lowery said the most favorable option presented is design “B.” In it an on-ground circular ramp moves traffic from westbound SR-78 traffic to southbound Interstate 5, and a straight on-ground ramp moves vehicles to northbound I-5.
“It’s the least invasive thing they can do to get rid of the problem,” Lowery said. “It’s the least amount of harm to the neighborhood, and no harm to the lagoon.”
He added there is no access from Vista Way, where SR-78 now ends, to I-5 in any scenario.
Councilman Jerry Kern attended the meeting and said he sees positives in the same, least invasive option. He added he has his doubts that the steep one leaf clover turn will make the final selection, although it provides hope.
“Caltrans will do what Caltrans wants to do,” Kern said. “Caltrans will try to solve the problem. It may not be one the neighborhood likes.”
Lowery said there is also the widening of I-5 to consider, which has started in San Diego and is moving north. He added construction of the ramp moving traffic from SR-78 to northbound I-5 could not be done until interstate lanes are added.
He said he asked Caltrans and SANDAG for a timeline of when freeway construction will begin in Oceanside and has not gotten an answer.
“They say they don’t have any idea,” Lowery said. “I definitely have no idea.”
Lowery concluded his presentation with the forecast that freeway buildout, which may take 10 years, would likely only hold traffic growth for two to three years, and then other solutions would be needed.
“We won’t be moving at all on freeways with 12 lanes and interchanges,” Lowery said. “It’s a 10-year answer to a 100-year problem.”
He suggested investment in robust transit development to address traffic congestion. He said it’s important to also improve bus, rail, pedestrian and bike travel.
This is not the last discussion on the issue.
Bledsoe said she feels Lowery provided insight on the topic that has more questions than answers.
She added the chamber would probably invite a speaker from Caltrans or SANDAG to give an update in the middle of next year, when the project is further along.
“At this stage of the game they don’t have all the answers, and shouldn’t be expected to,” Bledsoe said. “I hope we see some solution in the next couple of years. The city has a lot of tourism, and beautiful beaches, we need to be able to move people effectively.”
The Oceanside Chamber of Commerce meets the first Thursday of each month at 928 N. Coast Highway.