Public art project at Encinitas freeway intersections taking shape

In about two years or so, pedestrians walking under the Interstate 5 underpass at Santa Fe Drive and motorists getting on and off the freeway at Encinitas Boulevard will have a totally different aesthetic experience.

Gone will be the bland walls along both sides of Santa Fe and the typical on- and off-ramps at Encinitas Boulevard. In their place, colorful mosaics — some created by local youth.

Encinitas has started the process of the public arts project, which will be in connection with a Caltrans’ overhaul of the two underpasses that is expected to be completed by late 2019. The state agency is creating space for bike lanes and sidewalks at both freeway intersections.

The city has to forward designs to Caltrans in order for the art to be installed. The City Council in April approved the city art commission’s recommendation for the location of the artistic elements.

The recommendation calls for the 30 spots on the new “soil nail” retaining walls of each side of the Santa Fe underpass. The spots, known as inset display spaces, will be at eye level and will each contain a mosaic.

City officials said the Santa Fe project will have more artwork than the Encinitas Boulevard project because of the heavier pedestrian use at Santa Fe.

“Because Santa Fe is such a walking location, you have student transit, you have the hospital, a shopping center, there’s a tremendous pedestrian presence there,” City Arts Administrator Jim Gilliam said. “The arts committee felt they wanted to create an artistic setting that enhanced walkability. We believe the design, with the 3-by-5 feet mosaics at eye level located along the sidewalk, accomplishes this.”

Currently, the plan is for students to create the mosaics in the inset spaces, which arts commissioners said would add charm to the project. San Dieguito High School Academy art teacher Jeremy Wright said at the commission’s April 2 meeting that he would help the city by finding student artists at his school and other nearby schools as the project advances.

At Encinitas Boulevard, the city would have professionally made mosaics along four so-called “ground anchor walls,” placed at the on- and off-ramps.

While comparable to a similar project Caltrans and the city of Solana Beach collaborated on at Lomas Santa Fe and the freeway, city officials said the local project will be smaller in scale and in budget.

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