On August 13, with the unprecedented support of all six cities between San Diego and Oceanside, the California Coastal Commission gave the green light to SANDAG’s long-term plan to widen I-5.
After the unanimous vote by the commission, SANDAG announced last week it would begin the first phase of the project. At an estimated cost of $600 million, the I-5’s carpool lanes will be extended north from Cardiff’s Manchester Avenue to Oceanside’s Harbor Drive.
SANDAG’s plan calls for eventually widening the 27 miles of North County freeway that is now labeled the most congested in San Diego County.
This summer’s weekend slow ’n’ go traffic into San Diego on I-5 began around mid-morning each Saturday and continued through the late afternoon. Southbound traffic would start backing up anywhere from Oceanside north, but sometimes as far up as San Clemente or San Juan Capistrano.
The county fair and horse racing at Del Mar didn’t help traffic flow, but southbound traffic would break free at the fairgrounds exit, Via de la Valle, where the southbound carpool lane begins and Caltrans has installed a fifth lane for off- and on-ramp transition.
Sunday’s return commute north on I-5 into Orange County would begin sometimes as far south as Carmel Valley at around 3:00 p.m. It would remain slow through North County and continued into the evening hours.
The widening project will take a decade or two to be complete, as it also integrates all transportation modalities; cars, car pools, buses, trains. and bicycles — even pedestrian crossings over lagoons.
Transportation planners will also use the widening project to correct the lack of environmental wisdom used when building the “scrape and straight” freeways in the 1960s, over the six lagoons that dot coastal North County.
The newly reopened I-15 through Rancho Bernardo is the best example of what planners have in mind for the I-5, with the additional commuter train component that is expected to increase to 100 trains a day.
I-15 was the most congested freeway up until its widening project from Highway 78 to the 163. Now the inbound commute is usually trouble- and traffic-free. SANDAG says the new I-15 is “the most innovative highway in San Diego County.”
At previous public-input meetings held by SANDAG and Caltrans, there have been two types of opponents to the I-5 plan. One group doesn’t want any widening at all, hoping to force motorists out of cars and into public transit; the others want the freeway widened yesterday and don’t want to wait 15 years for the integration of public transit systems and carpool lanes.
Historical footnote: Governor Jerry Brown’s father, former Gov. Edmund G. “Pat” Brown (1959–1966), is credited with instituting the federal government's massive interstate-building program. He helped Southern California become the car capital of the world.