I-5/Lomas project criticized


Residents say new interchange is dangerous

Now that the new Interstate 5-Lomas Santa Fe Drive interchange has been open for a couple of months, residents are raising numerous concerns about how it works.

While many agree traffic flow is much improved through the intersection, some are questioning how safe the interchange is for bicyclists and pedestrians, and others are complaining about longer backups getting into their neighborhoods.

Cyclists headed west on Lomas Santa Fe are difficult to see as they emerge from under the freeway and behind a barrier as drivers are moving across the bike lane into a short, right-turn lane dedicated to turning onto the southbound on-ramp.

Several drivers said there is not enough time to see if a cyclist is in the bike lane before cutting into the right-turn lane.

“I am afraid someday I’m going to hit a cyclist,” said Steve Goetsch, a public safety commission member.

City Engineer Mo Sammak said the city has met with Caltrans, which operates the interchange, to address safety concerns such as this one. The proposed solution is to eliminate the short, right-turn lane onto the southbound on-ramp so drivers will not be able to cut over immediately after the barrier ends. Instead they would enter the freeway from the through lane, giving them a longer time to see cyclists.

Worries for walkers

Another major concern is about pedestrians crossing the on-ramps on the north side of the street, especially for school children.

Even though adults help students cross in the mornings and afternoons, the new configuration without a traffic light means drivers seem to not pay as much attention as they enter the freeway, Skyline Principal Lisa Denham said.

“We need to make it as safe as possible for kids,” Denham said. “We don’t want to have to say kids can’t walk to school, when we need to be encouraging more kids to walk.”

The proposed solution for this problem is to install eye-catching signs to alert drivers to watch for pedestrians and to reorient the curb to direct walkers to cross at a more visible angle.

The third most common complaint with the interchange is from eastside residents who have lost their dedicated right-turn lane onto Santa Helena from westbound Lomas Santa Fe. When the interchange backs up, those drivers have to wait much longer to make the turn.

Caltrans does not plan to change the lanes at this time, Sammak said.

Cutting noise

In other freeway news, Caltrans officials recently announced they plan to begin a $1.5 million sound-dampening pilot project on I-5 between Via de la Valle and Lomas Santa Fe in both directions next year.

Called “whisper grind,” the process of carving grooves of a specified depth and width into the concrete is supposed to reduce noise emitted from tires hitting the road by 3 decibels, said Arturo Jacobo, the Caltrans I-5 corridor manager.

While many community members had requested the agency try rubberized asphalt concrete, a quieter road surface, Jacobo said it is not ideal for this heavily traveled stretch of I-5.

Unlike whisper grind, the asphalt’s sound reduction benefits would diminish over time and require more frequent replacement, making it more costly, he said.

At the I-5, Lomas Santa Fe interchange, a car cuts across the westbound bike lane to enter the southbound on-ramp, which many say is an unsafe situation for cyclists.