The I-8 and I-5 Interchange

A question of on-ramps

Dear Matthew Alice:

When the state/Caltrans built the O.B. Freeway, why didn't they put a ramp from Ocean Beach I-8 east to I-5 north? Sea World Drive is a pain!

Brad Cronk
Ocean Beach

You're not the first frustrated motorist to ask this question, Brad. Less than two years after the Ocean Beach extension of Interstate 8 was completed in 1969, practically before the stripes were dry between the lanes, the California Highway Commission was asked by legislative representative of the City of San Diego to explain the irksome incompleteness of interchanges. The commission ordered a state engineer to report back with some answers, but I cannot locate this reply to the commission. Finding my way through the mass of paperwork in the various transportation agencies has proved to be even more annoying than driving the freeways of Los Angeles, and I simply gave up the tedious search. No matter. There are still no convenient ramps connecting I-8 east to I-5 north, off 5 south to I-8 west. And I can explain why, even without some engineer's obtuse report. The answer is money.

Back during the incubation of the O.B. Freeway, when all that existed were squiggly lines through the minds of engineers, it became apparent to those who dictate where our roads will be - the California Department of Transportation, the California Highway Commission (now the Transportation Commission), and various city and county agencies - that interchanges could not be built both at Sea World/Tecolote drives and farther south at the I-5/I-8 intersection. The two thoroughfares connecting to Interstate 5 are just too close together to make life simple, or in the words emblazoned above every desk in Sacramento, cost effective. A ramp could be built leading from I-8 east to I-5 north, but because of safety regulations it would have to be designed to go through the intersection of the freeways; north along 5, over Sea World Drive, and down to the freeway past Sea World. That's a lot of concrete. There are also difficulties with rights-of-way involving the railroad and with the flood control channel. A ramp connecting I-5 south to the freeway would be easier, but Cal trans has a policy of not building a ramp unless a return ramp in the opposite direction can also be built - drivers get too confused otherwise, they say.

Rather than spend all this money on elaborate interchanges, planners thought, there was a simple solution: build the interchange at Sea World Drive and have Ocean Beach residents get to and from their community via that interchange. The city planners' eyes were cast eastward anyway, since grand schemes were being devised for the Tecolote Canyon area, and it was thought at the time that more people would be driving east along Tecolote Road. But there's that old maxim about best-laid plans, and expansionism was nipped in the bud (or somewhere painful, you can bet). Tecolote Canyon was kept as an open space, and engineers went back to their drawing boards, devising ways to distribute the populace to other parts of the county. Meanwhile, OBers struggle with Sea World Drive.

It's all cause for wonder, but I'm still trying to figure out another perplexing exercise in logic used in a different aspect of the design of the O.B. Freeway. State engineers proposed to elevate the eastbound lanes above the levee to provide drivers with a view of Mission Bay - a thoughtful act, admittedly - but didn't do the same for westbound drivers because, they said, westbound motorist could not look at the bay and drive safely at the same time.

Dear Matthew Alice:

This question is one I must ask for my own peace of mind, to keep my sanity in an insane world: If out mailmen drive their vehicles from the right-hand side, do British mailmen drive their vehicles from the left-hand side? Please hurry with your answer time is running out.

A.J. Baur

l do hope I'm not too late with this, A.J. I, did my, best, but my investigators have only just returned from abroad with the answer to your question. I wasn't able to check on the other dozen· or so countries around the world that drive on the left side of the road - your sense of urgency necessitated a quick investigation - but I can report that in London the bright-red Royal Mail vehicles are driven from the same side as are private vehicles, the side closest to the center of the road.

Frankly I'm surprised by that. I would have expected more efficient thinking from the country that can lay claim to the invention of the world's first adhesive postage stamp, the so-called Penny Black of 1840, and the first mail collection box (invented by novelist Anthony Trollope). But British mail carriers must walk all the way around their vehicles to get to the curbside mailboxes - certainly a wasteful practice from our scurrying point of· view, though to the staid British I guess there's no need for undue haste in mail delivery. Not that Her Majesty's postal service is especially sluggish. During the Christmas season, for example, mail is delivered two or three times a day, seven days a week.

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