OCEANSIDE — For commuting residents, it’s no secret the interchange on state Route 78 and Vista Way to enter southbound Interstate 5 needs an upgrade. The issue has been a source of consternation and debate for motorists and politicians alike for decades, but relief could be on the horizon.
Congressman Mike Levin (D-CA), County Supervisor Jim Desmond and Encinitas Mayor Catherine Blakespear held a joint press conference on Jan. 24 in Oceanside to announce a potential way forward to fund upgrades to the intersection at SR 78 and Vista Way.
Levin, who described the interchange as a “nightmare” incapable of handling the high volume of cars currently utilizing the roadway, said he is working on securing funds from the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act to get design and engineering components for the interchange off the ground.
The congressman, San Diego County and SANDAG all must work with Caltrans and press the priority of the project to help secure federal funds, Levin said.
“Many of our roads and bridges are crumbling,” Levin said. “In some places, like the interchange … our highways are in desperate need of improvements. The bipartisan infrastructure law will address all that.”
Desmond said the interchange has been neglected for far too long, noting the intersections’ stoplight serves as a chokepoint with a ripple effect down the highway, leaving motorists with long wait times to turn south onto I-5 from the westbound lane of SR 78.
Additionally, Desmond, Levin and Blakespear said the upgrade will also help alleviate greenhouse gas emissions, bring a steadier flow of traffic and reduce congestion.
Just last month, the much-needed upgrade was one of more than a dozen highway projects scrapped from SANDAG’s 2021 Regional Transportation Plan, which focuses on improvements to transit, installing managed lanes, otherwise known as toll roads, transit hubs and technology on the county’s freeway system.
In a 2019 report, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave California a “C-“ for its infrastructure, noting the “state’s infrastructure renewal and replacement programs have been significantly underfunded for a long time.”
For the potential SR-78 interchange project, SANDAG and Caltrans must also conduct a study on the targeted intersection for environmental impacts, traffic, emissions and total cost, according to Coleen Clementson, director of regional planning for SANDAG.
Levin said the early studies and work will cost between $10 million to $15 million. The cost of construction is unknown at this point and there is no official timeline for the project, according to Levin.
As for what the potential new interchange may look like, Clementson said designs must be studied to ensure a positive maximum impact for motorists.
Desmond noted another chokepoint is the I-15 and SR 78 interchange, and while that interchange has not been addressed, the potential for the I-5 project is welcoming news.
“This is exactly how things should be working,” Desmond said, echoing comments by Levin about bipartisanship. “Our parties working together to bring federal dollars to better the lives of San Diegans. Road projects have gotten the short end of the stick, in my opinion, with the new SANDAG plan.”
Blakespear said SANDAG’s plan calls for connecting all managed lanes, while she also hopes the plan will lead to more carpooling to help reduce emissions. SANDAG identified transportation emissions as the biggest source of emissions and the regional plan estimates cutting those by 19% by 2035.
“This supercharges the programs we have in our SANDAG regional plan,” Blakespear said, who also serves as chair of SANDAG. “The regional plan looks out 30 years to 2050 and says what transportation improvements do we want to have in this county, and this is one of them.”
Levin has been active in his attempts to secure funds from the infrastructure bill, as he announced last week $30.5 million for the Encinitas-Solana Beach Coastal Storm Damage Reduction Project and $1.8 million for the Oceanside Special Shoreline Study, along with pledges for trenching the railroad tracks in Carlsbad Village, the Coastal Rail Trail Bridge and Pacific Terrace Bridge.