By Karen Billing
The California Department of Transportation, or Caltrans, hosted its only public meeting on the Interstate 5/State Route 56 draft environmental impact report (DEIR) on June 13 at Del Mar Hills Academy. The agency seeks public input as it looks at four possible alternatives to make the missing linkages between I-5 South and 56 East, and 56 West and I-5 North.
Allan Kosup, Caltrans I-5 corridor director, said they are tasked with finding a solution that is sensitive to the community and the environment while addressing local congestion, cut-through traffic and regional connections.
“There’s no preferred alternative at this point, so public input in this process is a very important part in the selection of the preferred alternative,” Kosup said.
The comment period for the DEIR has been extended to the maximum 60 days, ending on July 17. Kosup said they expect to make their decision on the preferred alternative by the end of 2012. The final EIR would be released in late 2013, with project construction targeted for 2020-30 if any build option is selected.
The need for the 5/56 interchange improvements comes in looking forward to 2040, where the traffic is going to be double what it is today, with increased travel times and more traffic finding its way through the community, Kosup said.
The alternatives aim to lower the volume cutting through local streets and generate travel time savings.
The alternatives studied in the DEIR include no build, the direct connector, auxiliary lane improvements, hybrid, and hybrid with flyover.
The direct connector bridges the 56 and the 5 in both directions and adds two lanes on westbound 56 and one lane on eastbound 56 between Carmel Country Road and El Camino Real.
The auxiliary lane alternative adds one auxiliary lane on southbound 5 between Del Mar Heights Road and Carmel Valley Road and provides some improvements on westbound 56 from Carmel Country Road to El Camino Real.
The hybrid alternative connects westbound 56 with northbound 5 via a two-lane connector ramp. It adds an auxiliary lane on southbound 5 between Del Mar Heights and Carmel Valley Road and adds two lanes on westbound 56 and one lane on eastbound 56 between Carmel Country and El Camino Real.
The hybrid with flyover option connects westbound 56 with northbound 5 with a connector ramp and eastbound Carmel Valley Road to eastbound 56 with an on-ramp connector. It also adds one auxiliary lane on southbound 5 and two lanes on westbound 56 and one on eastbound 56.
All of the build alternatives replace and enhance the Del Mar Heights overcrossing and costs range from $90 million for the auxiliary lane beef up to $250 million for the direct connector.
“In general, the alternatives provide a 10 to 20 percent reduction in regional traffic trying to go through the community,” Kosup said.
Travel time savings among the alternatives range from five to 20 minutes.
As for noise, all of the alternatives provide a reduction in the noise level over today’s condition, Kosup said.
“We heard clearly from the public that we need to get out of the box and be creative about reducing our noise levels,” Kosup said.
He noted that currently on Lomas Santa Fe and Via de la Valle, Caltrans is testing a new technology to grind lanes differently and reduce traffic noise.
“There are some things we can do to try and reduce noise,” Kosup said. “We’re trying to do new things to make it better.”
There will be visual impacts as Kosup noted that the direct connector will be about 20 feet higher than the connectors used going to and from south downtown.
Kosup said they heard clearly the concerns about right of way impacts, the possible taking of homes, as well as noise and visual impacts.
“You can see the concerns reflected in the alternatives,” Kosup said, noting that the hybrid options specifically came out of the community process. Kosup said that the hybrid plans were included and studied is an indication that the community process worked and changed the direction they were heading.
The DEIR includes nearly 20 technical reports on key issues of congestion relief, noise, visual impacts, right of way, environment and cost-effectiveness.
“The technical studies look at all the alternatives equally. There is no perfect alternative, some perform better in traffic but have a greater community impact. Some sacrifice a portion of traffic relief but reduce the community impact. It’s a balancing act for us.”
Wednesday’s meeting was presented in workshop form, with people able to submit written comments or through a court reporter.
Some in attendance expressed their displeasure with the process and the project.
“I feel like the lack of planning is deplorable,” said Del Mar resident Mary Farrell. “We should not be presented with this, it should have been done when they built the 56…why wasn’t it done right the first time?”
In his comments, Kosup addressed that very question. He said in the 1980s as they first looked at SR-56, land use to the east was very different and there were no homes in the North City Future Urbanizing Area, which includes portions of today’s Carmel Valley and Torrey Hills.
“The demand was going to be going more downtown so it didn’t warrant the additional expenditure of funds,” Kosup said. “Fast forward 20 years. We can all argue whether it was the right decision or not but the decision was made. A lot has changed.”
Now the question is as they look at the condition of the 5/56, with concerns about local congestion and regional trips, whether the benefits the alternatives would provide are worth the cost and the impact.
Bill Farrell said that in his mind the “retrofit” of the freeways, coming as the result of poor planning is not worth the cost.
“I can think of a better way to spend those millions of dollars,” Bill Farrell said.
Dennis Ridz, chair of the Torrey Pines Community Planning Board, was concerned about the workshop format as well as the DEIR as a whole.
“This is a sham,” Ridz said.
Ridz said Caltrans has eliminated all the 3-D simulation videos that were on the Keep San Diego Moving site previously that showed what the project alternatives could look like.
“All of the maps and drawings are based on I-5 currently, not the buffed out North Coast Corridor that we are going to see,” Ridz said, referencing the I-5 widening. “If you add the connector, we’re looking at between 19 and 21 lanes at the Del Mar Heights bridge and you can’t get that perception here. They’ve been very careful with all the photos they took.”
Ridz has many problems with the DEIR, including that the report did not include the heights of the connector. He contacted Caltrans to get the heights and was informed they missed including it.
“How could you spend a million dollars and miss that?” Ridz said.
The agency told him that from the roadway to the top of the connector is a maximum height of 57 feet and told Ridz they would be correcting it. Ridz said it was “unacceptable” that that and other details were not included.
At the Torrey Pines planning board meeting the next night, the board sent a letter asking Caltrans to revise the DEIR and reissue the document with sufficient information to allow meaningful evaluation and analysis by the public and to have a corrected document circulate for a 90-day review period in September 2012.
Ray Ellis, a Carmel Valley resident and candidate for San Diego City Council District 1, said that the timing on responding to the DEIR has been difficult for groups like the Carmel Valley Community Planning Board, which has been tied up with the One Paseo development DEIR.
“While I know that there are elements that are time sensitive, we need to get a comprehensive solution that addresses all the issues; there’s a lot of moving parts,” Ellis said. “There are so many things going on in this area and how we are going to look for decades.”
“This is important to get right,” Ridz echoed. “Why rush it if it’s part of the 2030 plan?”
Comment on the DEIR by mail to Shay Lynn Harrison, chief environmental analyst Caltrans District 11, 4050 Taylor Street, San Diego 92110 or via e-mail to I-5_SR_56_Interchange_Draft_EIR_EIS@dot.ca.gov. View the DEIR at