REGION — State officials recently activated more ramp meters on state Route 78 with the goal of easing congestion.
The California Department of Transportation, or Caltrans, increased its metering to a total of 22 on-ramps on both directions of the highway that attracts more than 100,000 cars daily. Affected locations include Civic Center Drive, Mar Vista Drive and Sycamore Avenue in the city of Vista.
Lawrence Emerson, the branch chief of ramp metering for Caltrans, said the amount of vehicles traveling on SR-78 has increased over time. Nearly 20 years ago, commuters only saw ramp meters in the morning if they were traveling westbound and in the evenings if they were traveling eastbound.
But, times have changed, Emerson said.
“When I joined the Ramp Metering Branch 10 years ago, the meters were on from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. but the congestion started before 3 p.m. so we shifted it to start around 2 p.m.,” Emerson said. “About four to five years ago, we also found it was congested in the evenings going westbound but we weren’t metering at that time. We started activating the meters because congestion continued to increase.”
Emerson said Caltrans decided to increase the number of ramp metering times after learning congestion was increasing on SR-78.
“We have detection along the corridors that collects all the traffic data,” Emerson said. “Also, when people call to express their concerns, we look at what’s going on and if there’s enough reason to activate more meters. This past year, we saw that traffic has increased and it was time to make a change.”
Caltrans said roughly 122,000 to 170,000 cars drive on SR-78 daily. During peak times, 9,500 to 12,900 cars drive through SR-78.
Emerson said SR-78 is unique as it only has three lanes compared to other freeways that have four to five lanes. The small number of lanes requires more management of traffic, he said.
“We can’t get rid of all the congestion but we can help manage the flow,” Emerson said. “The ramp metering shrinks the congestion at the beginning and the end.”
According to Caltrans, research indicates a “short delay at the ramp meter will not only save you time, but makes for safer ride as well.
“For instance, it can take an hour to travel from Encinitas to downtown (San Diego) on Interstate 5 if traffic is moving at less than 25 miles per hour. With ramp meters regulating traffic, even at a speed of just 40 miles per per hour, the same destination can be reached 20 minutes faster.”
Ramp meters were first used in the U.S. in the early 1960s and introduced to San Diego County in the mid-1980s, according to Caltrans.
Emerson said additional measures will be done to reduce congestion on SR- 78.
He said capital projects are underway that will widen the highway in certain areas.
Outreach will also be done to encourage drivers to allow for more time during their commutes and to carpool with others.
In general, it’s good for everybody to leave a few minutes earlier, especially during the peak of congestion.” Emerson said. “It just helps reduce traffic.”
From 5:30 to 9:30 a.m., ramp meters will be activated on eastbound SR-78 in the following areas:
• July 6: Jefferson Street and Plaza Drive in Oceanside
• July 12: Twin Oaks Valley Road, Barham Drive/Woodland Parkway and Nordahl Road in San Marcos
• July 19: Rancho Santa Fe Road, Las Posas Road/Grand Avenue and San Marcos Boulevard in San Marcos
From 3 to 7 p.m., ramp meters will be activated on westbound SR-78 in the following areas:
• July 26: Mar Vista Drive, Civic Center Drive and Vista Village Drive in Vista
• Aug. 2: W. Vista Way, Emerald Drive, northbound College Avenue in Oceanside
• Aug. 9: southbound College Boulevard, El Camino Real and Jefferson Street in Oceanside