Caltrans, San Diego reviewing improvements to congested SR-56 in Carmel Valley

The city of San Diego and Caltrans are working together to find solutions for commuters who struggle daily with the heavily congested SR-56. At peak hours, the 56 can resemble a parking lot, with cars at a standstill. And with all the development occurring along the corridor, traffic is only expected to increase.

“The Regional Transportation Plan (RTP) anticipates that the region will have sufficient funds to do major improvements by the year 2040 on the SR-56 Corridor,” said Edward Cartagena, Caltrans media information officer. “The City of San Diego has asked Caltrans to look into the possibility of doing smaller projects which could be done sooner and would help reduce some of the congestion on SR-56. They could pay for it using city funds.”

In March, Council President Sherri Lightner led a City Council vote to initiate a feasibility study process, including various technical studies and reports, to expand the busy thoroughfare from four to six lanes. In her endorsement of the study, she stated that the 2040 target date for the highway expansion is too far off and improvements need to happen sooner rather than later.

According to Jennifer Kearns, director of communications for Lightner’s office, Caltrans is almost done with the study’s first draft. The city’s transportation division staff met with Caltrans on July 16, and a Caltrans engineer estimated that a draft report would be sent to the city for review in September.

According to Kearns, the feasibility study is being funded through the Black Mountain Road SR-56 Development Fund and Torrey Highland Facilities Benefit Assessments Fund (FBA). The Black Mountain Ranch, Torrey Highlands, Pacific Highlands Ranch, and Del Mar Mesa FBAs will also be contributing toward any initial SR-56 improvements that may come as a result of the study. The total FBA funding towards SR-56 improvements will amount to $33 million.

Cartagena said it is anticipated that all of the SR-56 improvements can be done within the existing right of way.

“There might be a need for temporary construction easements to build sound walls at certain locations and some minor work for utility relocation and electrical modifications, but we do not anticipate the need to purchase additional land, much less acquire homes or businesses for the freeway improvements,” he said.

The widening of SR-56 could occur before the construction of the SR-56 and Interstate 5 connector project, he said.

Options to make the missing connections between I-5 South and SR-56 East and SR-56 West and I-5 North include a direct connector flyover, auxiliary lane or hybrid alternatives. Caltrans is finalizing the environmental document and plans to announce the project’s preferred alternative this fall.