Council OKs plan to study exit ramp

DEL MAR — City Council unanimously agreed at the Aug. 8 meeting to take action on a project study report that could result in a direct access ramp from Interstate 5 to the Del Mar Fairgrounds.
The California Department of Transportation will be widening the freeway to 12 lanes during the next several years. At that time the plan is to remove the overpass at Via de la Valle and reconfigure the off ramps to handle an increase in traffic expected from the Flower Hill Mall expansion and more events at the fairgrounds.
“They indicated they are going to try and offload that traffic more quickly onto our streets, mainly Via de la Valle and Jimmy Durante (Boulevard),” Councilmen Carl Hilliard said
“They suggested that this is an opportunity for us, as a city or together with other cities such as San Diego and Solana Beach, to discuss the addition of a direct access off ramp into the fairgrounds,” he said.
“It’s my impression that that is a desired outcome for Caltrans in providing the best solution at the interchange there at Via de la Valle,” Councilman Mark Filanc said.
That will require a project study report estimated to cost $500,000, which Hilliard said would ideally be shared between all the stakeholders, including Solana Beach, the city of San Diego, the Flower Hill developers and the
22nd District Agricultural Association, which manages the fairgrounds.
“Hopefully the DAA will be the lead funder since most of the traffic is created by their activities,” Hilliard said.
“It would behoove the council to see if there’s any opportunity to seek out some funding … to do this project study report,” Filanc said.
The report could help secure funding for infrastructure in the future, he said.
“Now is the time to move this project forward if it is truly the best alternative,” Filanc said. “I think this report will dictate whether or not (it) is.
“The studies that Caltrans has done so far indicate that that is the best solution in alleviating a lot of our traffic problems right there at that intersection,” Filanc said.
Interim City Manager Mark Ochenduszko, who has experience with project study reports, described them as noteworthy.
“It is an important process for doing the preliminary work necessary to then proceed with design work and ultimately construction of a project,” he said. “It is an important step in the Caltrans process and for federal highway funded projects.”
Ochenduszko said the report involves conceptual design, an environmental analysis and preliminary engineering to determine feasibility.
“It’s a useful, important and necessary step to advance a project of this scope,” he said.
Resident Bill Michalsky said he was a bit shocked to hear renewed talk about an access ramp. “It’s kind of surprising,” he said. “I thought it went away.”
Michalsky’s biggest concern was any impacts it may have on the lagoon.
“My understanding is the direct access ramp was removed because the DAA was opposed because it would take out their sports facility,” Hilliard said.
The 22nd DAA approved a master plan for an expansion project at the fairgrounds that includes replacing older exhibit halls with a building that will feature lighted rooftop sports fields and adding administrative offices and a 60,000-square-foot health club.
Hilliard said the ramp would be to the far north so it wouldn’t impact the lagoon; however, there will be view obstruction.
He compared the ramp to the one used at Disneyland that feeds right into the park. The one at the fairgrounds would likely only be used when events are taking place there, he said.
That area of the freeway is slated for widening at the end of the project, which won’t even start for another two years. But the study would need to be done during the planning phase within about six months, Hilliard said.
“This is our only opportunity,” Filanc said. “If it passes by the window and Caltrans is putting this in the hopper for design then I think that you lose that opportunity to even make an informed decision going forward.”
The next step is to meet with all the stakeholders. Hilliard said he and Filanc were also encouraged to continue lobbying for advancement of a permanent train platform at the fairgrounds.