By Marlena Chavira-Medford
Even though it was midday on a Monday, more than 200 neighbors packed Solana Beach Presbyterian’s Debin Hall Nov. 8 for a public forum about the possible expansion of Interstate 5, a project that would widen a 27-mile stretch of the freeway from La Jolla to Oceanside.
The forum — which was hosted by California senators Christine Kehoe and Alan Lowenthal — was reminiscent of another I-5 forum that took place inside that same church hall last August. During that late summer meeting Solana Beach neighbors voiced strong disapproval of the project, and it was apparent during Monday’s meeting that opposition has only gained steam since then.
“Pouring more concrete and creating lanes for cars, trucks, and buses will not solve our problem with congestion and gridlock,” Solana Beach resident Mary Jane Boyd told the Caltrans and SANDAG representatives who were at the forum, a statement that was met with applause. Boyd was just one of the more than two dozen residents who spoke out against the project.
“The negative impacts of this project are huge, and the benefits are minimal at best,” said Oceanside councilmember Esther Sanchez, who said she was there to publically speak on behalf of the residents she serves. Like Solana Beach, Oceanside has spent tens of thousands of dollars to analyze a Caltrans report that outlines the environmental impacts of the project. The public comment period for that report ends Nov. 22.
Several of the speakers expressed concerns with the project, saying that the freeway expansion would negatively impact air quality, damage nearby lagoons, bring down property values, and worsen quality of life for nearby residents. Many also encouraged Caltrans and SANDAG representatives to instead pour their resources into a better mass-transit plan.
The fewer than four people who did publically support the project — some of whom were booed by the crowd — included representatives from the San Diego Chamber of Commerce, the Associated General Contractors of San Diego, the Auto Club of Southern California, and the American Society of Civil Engineers’ San Diego Chapter.
Caltrans has proposed four versions of the project, which range from expanding the freeway up to 10 lanes to a “no-build” option that would leave things as they are, though Caltrans I-5 project director Allan Kosup warned that traffic times between San Diego and Oceanside would nearly double by 2030 if nothing is done.
During the forum Kosup also said several agencies including the California Coastal Commission, would have to OK the project before it could move forward. That approval process could take up to two years, he said.
The City of Solana Beach will host a public meeting regarding the I-5 expansion on Thursday, Nov. 18, from 6 to 8 p.m. at City Hall, 635 S Hwy 101.