Work will start in April on long-awaited widening of state Route 56

Afternoon eastbound traffic on State Route 56 at Carmel Country Road.
Afternoon eastbound traffic on State Route 56 at Carmel Country Road.
(Don Boomer/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

The western part of State Route 56 will get 2 HOV lanes — expanding freeway from 4 lanes to 6 lanes — which will ease congestion from nearby employment centers


Caltrans and San Diego say they’ll break ground in April on widening the western portion of State Route 56 from four lanes to six lanes, alleviating traffic congestion near some of the region’s largest job centers.

The long-awaited $39 million project, first announced in 2014, will include two new lanes in the existing median that will be reserved for buses and high-occupancy vehicles with at least two passengers.

The 2.2-mile widening project, which is slated for completion in October 2025, will also include a new bicycle bridge over the east side ramps of the freeway’s interchange with Interstate 15.

City officials said the new lanes will help the freeway better accommodate thousands of new homes and many new businesses in the area, including the 70-acre Merge 56 mixed-use project.

“This area has grown tremendously in the past few years, and it definitely needs some help,” Councilmember Dr. Jennifer Campbell said last week.

City officials said the new lanes will also help with traffic from large employment centers in Sorrento Valley, Sorrento Hills and Rancho Bernardo. Sorrento Valley is the largest employment center in San Diego County.

Neighborhoods directly affected by the new lanes include Del Mar, Carmel Valley, Torrey Highlands, Rancho Penasquitos, Black Mountain Ranch, Sabre Springs, Carmel Mountain Ranch and Poway.

The widening will span from El Camino Real to just west of Carmel Valley Road at the Gonzales Creek bridge.

The City Council’s Active Transportation and Infrastructure Committee unanimously approved last week a new project agreement between the city and Caltrans.

Environmentalists questioned whether adding more freeway lanes is a wise use of public money with worsening climate change prompting cities to find ways to get people to commute by means other than automobiles.

“It’s important to see what the return on investment is when we’re spending millions of dollars,” said Corinna Contreras, a policy advocate for nonprofit Climate Action Campaign.

City officials said elements of the project that would fight climate change include the lanes for rapid buses and the new bicycle bridge, which aims to make bike commuting safer and more convenient in the area.

An existing 10-mile protected bicycle path under SR-56, which runs from just east of I-5 at El Camino Real to just east of Interstate 15, will be extended west under I-5 to Sorrento Valley Road.

The county’s 2021 Regional Transportation Plan calls for the eventual widening of SR-56 to seven lanes, with two all-purpose lanes in each direction, one HOV lane in each direction and a managed lane that could shift direction.

Duncan Hughes, deputy director of the city’s Transportation Department, said the new project includes building only two of the three planned new lanes. Hughes said he didn’t know when the managed lane would be built.

The city is contributing $22.5 million to the project. The money is coming from fees developers paid to help the city build infrastructure needed to support their projects.

Caltrans — the state Department of Transportation — is contributing $16.5 million, $11 million for environmental analysis and $5.5 million for design work.