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  I-5 Expands, Caltrans Expounds
A Hornet’s Nest
Dwight Worden | Seaview Avenue


Photo illustration Art Olson

What costs $4.3 billion, goes from La Jolla to Oceanside, has a 10,000 page EIR, will result in traffic congestion in 2030 similar to that existing today, and has stirred up more controversy than a stick in a hornet’s nest? The CALTRANS proposed widening of the I-5 freeway. While the freeway does not actually touch or pass through the City of Del Mar, it will impact our community. Accordingly, the Del Mar City Council reactivated its existing Fairgrounds Master Plan EIR advisory committee to also take a look at the EIR/EIS on the proposed widening project. The committee has had several meetings, has identified the issues of most concern to Del Mar (the EIR/EIS is 10,000 pages) and committee members are busily working to digest these identified topics and to prepare a draft of comments for consideration by city staff and our City Council for ultimate submission to CALTRANS. The comment deadline was October 7, but an extension to November 22nd has been granted.

Here’s a thumbnail sketch of what the project is. Caltrans is considering several alternate scenarios for widening I-5. In each scenario two new carpool lanes in each direction are proposed to be added to the center of the freeway. In one scenario these lanes are separated by barriers (like the ones on I-15), and in the other scenarios these lanes are separated by a striped buffer. And there are alternatives to add an extra general travel lane or two in each direction in some options. There are also bridge widenings, ramp and intersection alterations, direct access ramps to get on and off, and a program of “community enhancements” such as trail widenings and the like. The EIR/EIS does not, however, consider the options for allocating that $4.3 billion to mass transit or other alternate modes of moving people and goods--the range of options considered is limited to options for widening I-5. CALTRANS attempts to justify this by pointing out that the I-5 widening is called for in the Regional Transportation Plan and they are just moving forward to implement that plan and the priorities set by SANDAG.

As you would expect, transportation planning for north county is a complex undertaking. Here are some of the key pieces: SANDAG, with representatives from every city and county, has adopted a Regional Transportation Plan that does include a call for I-5 widening. And, no doubt the projections for congestion on the freeway by 2030 are grim if something isn’t done. There is also a LOSSAN (Los Angeles-San Diego) corridor study addressing rail improvements, including the double tracking of the coastal rail line (the I-5 widening EIR/EIs assumes the double tracking will be completed), and there is a separate study addressing the highway 56 intersection with I-5. And, there are various plans and studies addressing everything from bicycle travel, to truck travel and the movement of goods, and travel demand management. To truly see the big picture, and to understand it, one needs to read and understand all of these plans, studies, and environmental reports. Quite an undertaking!

In this context, one of the main concerns identified by the Del Mar committee is that the EIR/EIS on the I-5 widening starts from the premise that the freeway will be widened without addressing or considering the broader policy issues of why we should be making a $4.3 billion commitment to the automobile rather than to mass transit or other forms of moving people and goods. The Del Mar committee is also concerned that spillover impacts from the widening will cause a worsening of traffic congestion on our local streets. And, the committee is studying the impacts of the sound walls proposed along the freeway to see if they are truly needed and to make sure their aesthetic, view blockage, and environmental impacts are addressed. For Solana beach and other communities to the north the project is even more dramatically impactful, as eminent domain is proposed to be used to acquire homes and businesses for the widening project. There are now several community organizations opposing the widening project, and CALTRANS, and some of these organizations have been holding public meetings about the project.

If you would like to review the I-5 widening EIR/EIS you can find it online at:

If you would like to express your opinion on the project to the Del Mar committee you can do so by sending an e-mail to committee chair Dwight Worden at:

dworden@roadrunner.com with a copy to Del Mar’s principal planner Adam Birnbaum at: abirnbaum@delmar.ca.us.


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