Drivers on Interstate 5 will get nine new miles of carpool lanes starting Tuesday

Drivers pass construction on southbound Interstate 5 at Manchester Avenue on Aug. 26, 2020.
Drivers pass construction on southbound Interstate 5 at Manchester Avenue on Aug. 26, 2020.
(Eduardo Contreras / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Ceremony will cap five years of work by local, state and federal agencies


Nine new miles of long-awaited carpool lanes on Interstate 5 in North County will open Tuesday morning, Feb. 15, with a ceremonial ribbon-cutting and speeches by administrators and elected officials.

“Infrastructure projects like this relieve traffic and improve people’s lives,” said San Diego County Supervisor Terra Lawson-Remer, whose North County district includes that section of the freeway.

“We need more of these investments in our region,” she said in an email Monday, Feb. 14. “San Diegans want to spend time with their loved ones, not stuck in gridlock. These carpool lanes are also essential to reducing pollution, protecting our climate, and making our region more healthy and liveable for our children and families.”

Employees of Caltrans and the San Diego Association of Governments will join elected officials for a ribbon-cutting ceremony and news conference at a construction staging site on Manchester Avenue just off the freeway in Encinitas. Caltrans District 11 Director Gustavo Dallarda, Solana Beach Mayor Leesa Heebner and Encinitas Mayor Catherine Blakespear are scheduled to speak.

The new lanes, one northbound and one southbound, were five years in the making and go between Loma Santa Fe Drive in Solana Beach and Palomar Airport Road in Carlsbad. A previous segment of carpool, or high-occupancy vehicle, lanes was finished along I-5 from La Jolla Village Drive to the I-5/805 interchange.

Construction began in October 2021 on the next stretch of carpool lanes that will continue north from Palomar Airport Road to the state Route 78 interchange at the Oceanside-Carlsbad border. Areas where work is underway are marked by orange stripes on the pavement and have a reduced speed limit of 55 mph.

The new lanes are in the center of the freeway, on the driver’s far left, and bring the total number of lanes to 10.

Eventually, plans call for a second set of high-occupancy vehicle lanes to be added. The second set of North County HOV lanes will include the addition of what’s called an Express Lane, which allows solo drivers who use the FasTrak system to pay a toll to use the lanes. So far, the FasTrak system is available on Interstate 15 and state Route 163, but not on I-5.

Caltrans intends to install 27 miles of Express lanes with two in each direction from La Jolla Village Drive in San Diego to Harbor Drive in Oceanside.

The work is part of the regional North Coast Corridor transportation improvement program, which includes additional projects that vary from bike paths, sound walls and environmental restoration to building new freeway and railroad bridges and a second set of coastal railroad tracks along the 60-mile segment from downtown San Diego to the Orange County border.

The Solana Beach-Encinitas portion of the North Coast Corridor program included the $117 million restoration of the San Elijo Lagoon as environmental mitigation for the freeway work. The restoration included dredging nearly 600,000 cubic yards of sand from the lagoon that was used to nourish the nearby beach at Cardiff.

Construction of all the projects in the program is expected to cost more than $6 billion and continue through 2050, according to one recent SANDAG estimate. The money comes from a variety of federal, state and local sources, including the voter-approved half-cent sales tax known as Transnet.

The North Coast Corridor program is intended to reduce freeway congestion by giving travelers more transportation choices and encouraging the use of carpools, vans and buses.