Caltrans sheds light on I-5 expansion

ENCINITAS — The California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) held an open-house meeting Wednesday at the Encinitas Community and Senior Center to educate and gather input from residents on a planned Interstate 5 expansion designed to alleviate traffic. 

Caltrans released an environmental impact report on the project about a month ago. The meeting was part of a public review period that ends Oct. 15.

The meeting detailed freeway construction plus plans to expand railways and build bridges at coastal lagoons. Caltrans officials were on hand to explain a bevy of informational charts. Residents perused artist renderings of what completed projects will look like should they be adopted.

Encinitas resident George Innis came to the meeting because the Caltrans project will “affect generations to come.”

Innis said he wanted to research whether the entire project justifies the price tag.

The freeway expansion, railways, coastal lagoon bridges, bike lanes, pedestrian routes and other improvements are estimated to cost $6.5 billion.

$3.5 billion of the project would go to creating four new lanes that would be built in the middle of the freeway from La Jolla to Oceanside. The new lanes, which are modeled after the nearly finished Interstate 15 express lanes, would be open to buses, carpoolers, motorcycles and solo drivers willing to pay a fee.

In addition, the Caltrans project calls for double-tracking San Diego’s existing coastal railway.

Innis said he also wanted to learn more about plans for bridges over the lagoons impacted by the I-5 expansion, especially the San Elijo Lagoon. Some believe the project would be detrimental to the habitat and wildlife at the lagoons.

In response to concerned comments from an earlier draft impact report, Caltrans proposed widening bridges over the lagoons to increase tidal range and water flow, which the organization said would benefit wildlife.

“I still need to study the project, but I’m hopeful after looking at the lagoon plans,” Innis said.

Resident Jim Meredith said he’s also vested in the San Elijo Lagoon.

“The lagoon is very important to our community,” he said.

Last year, Caltrans selected from four I-5 expansion plans. The organization settled on the express lanes, the smallest and least intrusive of the four options. The express lanes will reportedly cost less to install and would impact the fewest homes, according to Caltrans.

Some have argued Caltrans should have just expanded the freeway with four regular lanes. Others, like Shirley Klein, who was at the meeting, contend more funds should have been allocated to buses, trains and other alternative transportation.

“Widening freeways is not the answer to gridlock,” Klein said.

Klein said she was also concerned about noise associated with the freeway expansion. As part of the project, SANDAG plans to build 22 noise-mitigating walls.

Caltrans is slated to submit a final environmental report to the California Coastal Commission next year. If approved, the first phase of construction will begin late 2014.

 

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