Interstate 5 drivers will see a shift in traffic beginning in February when they cross the bridge being built over the San Elijo Lagoon at the border of Encinitas and Solana Beach.
Southbound traffic will be temporarily shifted about 50 feet to the west beginning the week of Feb. 2 and northbound traffic will shift the same distance to the east starting the week of Feb. 9. Some overnight lane closures will be needed during the transition to stripe pavement and move concrete barriers.
The rerouted traffic allows the destruction of the remaining interior parts of the old bridge and makes way for the continued construction of the new one. When completed in 2022, the wider bridge will have room for two more lanes both directions, north and south.
In addition to having a total of four more lanes, the new bridge will be 560 feet long, almost twice as long as the old one, said Allan Kosup, the project director for Caltrans.
Initially only one new lane in each direction will be used by traffic as a carpool lane on what’s now the center median from Manchester Avenue in Encinitas to Palomar Airport Road in Carlsbad. The second lane will be added later. The eventual plan is for the carpool lanes to become “express lanes” with additional features and traffic controls.
Community leaders met with officials from the state Transportation Department and the San Diego Association of Governments on Tuesday morning, Jan. 28, near the bridge to celebrate the halfway point of the carpool-lane construction project.
“We had a breakfast to thank the contractors who made this happen,” Kosup said. “A lot of care and sensitivity went into working around the lagoon.”
Construction of the freeway bridge is part of $850 million in related transportation and mitigation projects along what’s known as the North Coast Corridor.
The work includes segments of the Cardiff rail trail for cyclists and pedestrians, the replacement of the old single-track wooden railroad trestle across the lagoon with a new double-tracked concrete railroad bridge completed last year, and the dredging and environmental rehabilitation of the entire lagoon ecosystem now under way.
All the projects are being done together to reduce costs and minimize any negative effects on the public and the environment, Kosup said.
Both the new railroad bridge and the freeway bridge are longer and have fewer piers in the water to allow the tidal waters to flow more freely beneath them.
“That existing bridge out there is like the cork in the bottle,” Kosup said of the Interstate 5 span.
Free-flowing water prevents siltation and stagnation, and contributes to the overall health of the lagoon and marine life.
The speed limit in the 8-mile construction zone along the freeway was reduced in March from 65 mph to 55 mph and is expected to stay there until the work is finished in 2022.
A California Highway Patrol official said Tuesday that 715 speeding tickets have been issued so far under the lower limit, and that in most cases the fines were doubled because they were issued in a construction zone.
The new freeway bridge across the lagoon will have a separate level suspended beneath the main deck for cyclists and pedestrians. Ultimately the span will be part of a bike and pedestrian trail from La Jolla to Oceanside.
— Phil Diehl is a reporter for The San Diego Union-Tribune