OCEANSIDE — Community input is being gathered in spurts by Caltrans for the redesign of the Interstate 5/state Route 78 interchange. Initial public and work group meetings were held in January.
Councilman Chuck Lowery is among those who would like updated information on the project, and expressed concern about closed work group meetings that do not allow public input.
“No public meeting has been scheduled since one in Carlsbad weeks ago, though I’ve been asking for months,” Lowery said. “This seems to be a top secret disaster.”
Lowery is not alone in his point of view. Former Oceanside councilwoman Shari Mackin also spoke out against the closed work group meetings in a letter published in The Coast News on March 20.
In the editorial she said there is a community feeling of “deceit, secrecy and surprise.”
“The public is not notified when the ‘community working group’ meets so they can ask questions or offer insight, only given the results of the ‘meeting’ — this is not transparency,” Mackin wrote.
Expanding the interchange is a necessary first step before adding additional lanes to SR-78 to accommodate an anticipated million more people who will be living and driving in sprawling North County cities in 30 years.
The interchange project aims to create smoother traffic flow, and is expected to start build in 2018.
“The cities (of Oceanside and Carlsbad) would have to concur,” Allan Kosup, Caltrans I-5 corridor director, said. “We’re a few years away from asking cities that question.”
Before any construction can start, a lengthy development process must be followed that includes preliminary designs, engineering and environmental studies, project design and review, financing, and community input throughout the process.
During initial public meetings in January schematic designs were shared to spark conversation. Residents responded with numerous concerns.
They expressed worries about permanent closure of current freeway overpasses, which would isolate neighborhoods from services.
There were also questions over noise impacts, increased traffic on residential streets, the enormity and height of the six-ramp interchange, and pedestrian safety where interchange traffic spills into a residential neighborhood.
“It will gridlock traffic on our surface streets, it will undermine home value, and only help people driving from L.A. to TJ,” Lowery said.
Kosup said there are no design plans yet. He added four alternative designs and a no build option are being developed with regard to community input. Those plans would be shared, and residents’ stated concerns would be addressed at the next round of public meetings in July or later.
In addition to public meetings, a work group has been formed that includes community representatives from Oceanside, Carlsbad, area businesses, and lagoon and coastal resources.
Kosup said the work group meets in closed sessions to participate in small group, in-depth discussions, and all information is shared at public meetings.
The next public meetings on the project will be held in late summer, or early fall.
Lowery said he asked for upcoming meetings to be postponed to September to allow for more people to attend. He said he wants to ensure that residents are kept abreast of the project, and receive ample notification of public meetings so they can voice their concerns.