San Diegans oppose CalTrans’ plans to expand 27 miles of I-5

by on November 8, 2010 · 6 comments

in Culture, Economy, Environment, Health, Labor, San Diego


CalTrans wants to expand I-5 along a 27 mile stretch of freeway between La Jolla and Oceanside. They want to add 8 to 10 new lanes, plus more HOV lanes. They want to pour more concrete to allow for more vehicles in order to shave dozens of minutes off the average commute at peak times. It will only cost between $3.4 and $4.5 Billions, depending on which of the four options are chosen.

The new freeway expansion would potentially cause damage to only six coastal lagoons, only a mere 32 acres of wetlands and a pittance of 74 acres of coastal sage.

Plus it would only call for the condemnation and demolition of between 50 and 112 homes, and only 10 to 13 businesses, depending, again on which of the options of expanded lanes and HOV lanes are chosen.  Only a small number of nearby homes would be impacted by the noise, only a small two thousand actually, and of these, only 1600 would get noise abatement tricks at our, uh, I mean… CalTrans’ expense.

To top it all off, this expansion project is supported by general contractors, civil engineers and the Automobile Club of Southern California.

Caltrans meet 11-8-10

300 San Diegans crowded into public meeting on the I-5 expansion plans - by far most were in opposition. Photo by Ed Joyce/ KPBS.

So, a town hall type meeting was held today, Monday November 8th, up in Solana Beach.  The meeting was packed – at least 300 people attended – and most of them were against the project.  The meeting was called by the California Senate Transportation Committee to hear the public’s concerns.

And hear they did.  KPBS reported that it was a “lively and at times a boisterous crowd.”  NBC San Diego reported that the plan ran into a “wall of public opposition,” and that local residents were protesting it.

Most of the two dozen or so people who spoke were opposed to it. They cited concerns of health and environmental damage to the wildlife living along the proposed trek.

NBC’s Gene Cubbinson reported that Solana Beach resident Mary Jane Boyd said:

“I do not believe that pouring more concrete and creating lanes for cars, trucks and buses will solve our problem with congestion and gridlock. It certainly will do nothing to improve the quality of the air we breathe.”

Another resident Lane Sharman stated:

“This project will induce traffic onto the freeway and eliminate the opportunity for inducing traffic into high-speed rail.”

Cubbinson described that:

Solana Beach resident Steve Goetsch reminded state senate officials and Caltrans representatives that directors of the San Diego Association of Governments long ago urged Caltrans that no homes should be acquired by eminent domain for future projects.  In an interview following the town hall, Goetsch — whose neighbors across the street have received notices that their properties are in the path of the right-of-way — said it’s already adversely affecting their lives.

By law, you must tell anybody that you sell the home to,” said Goetsch. “Your home, at that point, is essentially value-less. At that point you can sell; no one’s going to buy it.”

KPBS Ed Joyce reported:

We clearly should not be spending billions of dollars for a project that will temporarily relieve congestion,” said Elizabeth Rudee of San Diego.

Other speakers said mass transit and smart growth are a better alternative to expanding the freeway.

It also sounds like the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce and the Associated General Contractors of San Diego did their thing – speaking in favor of the expansion, of course.

And CalTrans used the scare tactic of … increased travel time for that daily commute. CalTrans  rep,Allan Kosup,  declared that if 5 is not expanded, travel time between San Diego and Oceanside would nearly double by 2030, and that this severe traffic congestion over the next 20 years will hurt the Southern California and San Diego’s economy.

Again, NBC stated:

Those options call for eight or 10 general purpose lanes, four or five in each direction; and four interior, “managed” lanes for high occupancy vehicles, separated either by buffering roadway stripes or by concrete barriers.

The low-end cost estimate of the “8 plus 4” options is $3.4 billion; the high-end estimate for the “10 plus 4” options is $4.5 billion.

The resulting travel time for the “10 plus 4” options ranges from 28 to 37 minutes, and from 37 to 45 minutes for the “8 plus 4” options.

The California Coastal Commission has to approve the plan, as does the Federal Highway Administration. With an approval process of up to two years, CalTrans is hoping for a decision by the middle of next year, and if all goes as they wish – and things usually do go that way – completion  is 2013.  The comment period for the project’s draft environmental review ends November 22nd.

Anybody who has lived in and around northern San Diego for awhile has experienced and witnessed the near-constant expansion of our main freeway artery north along the coast. More and more lanes have been added over the decades, and more and more space is devoted exclusively to the automobile. This is what CalTrans does: it plans and then builds freeways; it’s its raison d’etre; it is not in the business of mass transportation unless there are lanes involved. And CalTrans usually gets its way – it’s a super-powerful state agency – lots of capital, lots of jobs, lots of bulldozers and caterpillars.

And in the end, CalTrans is a giant bureaucracy whose role is to continually replicate itself. If we had fast trains whipping along the I-5 corridor instead of another 8 to 10 lanes, CalTrans would not be as strong and powerful.

But it is crazy, too, to be sure. Can you imagine another 8 to 10 lanes, 4 HOV lanes plowed along that 27 mile stretch of some of the most beautiful coastal country in Southern California? If you cannot imagine it, and if you cannot imagine it for your kids, then get on the bandwagon to stop this project. Figure out how to make written comments by November 22nd. CalTrans is tough – tough on us, tough on the environment – but we can be tougher.

And oh, by the way, isn’t our state broke?

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Frank Gormlie November 8, 2010 at 10:28 pm

Here’s more from 10News:

Sen. Christine Kehoe hosted a town hall meeting so CalTrans and other agencies involved in the expansion could clarify the five different options ranging from doing nothing to widening I-5 to 14 lanes.

“The impacts are huge. The benefits are minimal at best,” said Oceanside City Councilmember Esther Sanchez.

La Jolla Resident Elizabeth Rudy said, “The CalTrans plan just makes it more convenient to drive more.”

When asked if there was an option she was in favor of, Kehoe said, “I don’t think so.”

Kehoe said she and her constituents still have a lot of questions about the proposed project, which would cost about $4 billion.

Many residents said they want the money spent on mass transit instead of traffic. This includes a group called I-5 PLAGUE, which stands for “Prevent Los Angeles Gridlock Usurping Our Environment.”

“L.A. has been expanding freeways for 40 years and they still have gridlock for seven hours every day,” said PLAGUE spokeswoman Noel Spade.

Pamela Epstein of the Sierra Club of San Diego, “We are in a climate crisis. We will no longer stand for [the] business-as-usual approach, which is building and widening freeways and adding concrete.”


avatar Seth November 9, 2010 at 1:21 pm

I had a professor of transportation planning who was fond of saying that California has already made all the easy choices, and now only the difficult ones remain. With the expected rates of population growth, and our collective travel habits, it will surely not get any easier from here.

Another quote that seems relevant here is from Stephen Harper, the PM of Canada, who has stated that, “You cannot build your way out of congestion.” How true.

With all that said, I am wary of this topic being framed as a simple matter of highways vs transit. While I am a firm believer that Southern California needs to commit to the latter in earnest, it looks like we will need a whole lot of both in the future.


avatar Brian November 9, 2010 at 2:02 pm

Build neither and eventually the problem will solve itself.


avatar Frank Gormlie November 9, 2010 at 6:49 pm

Seth, part of the problem in general and here specifically is that the governmental agencies, like SANDAG and CalTrans base their estimates of future traffic on models that forecast continued growth and population increases steadily into the remainder of this century. But, hey guess what? San Diego County has been losing population certain years lately, so the models didn’t forecast the greatest economic downturn since the Great Depression. What else don’t they forecast. I’m not supportive of something that CalTrans has been doing since I was in college with I-5: expand, expand, expand. If we had developed mass transit rail where you could drive your vehicle onto a railcar – which was thought of while I was at UCSD right off 5 40 years ago – we would be a lot wealthier today in many ways. It’s the same old song. Look at that photo. Is that what we want? And where oh where is the money coming from? We suddenly have funds for more freeways but no funds for mass rail? Priorities and political will.


avatar Wireless Mike November 9, 2010 at 4:18 pm

Consider the I-15/SR-163/US-395 corridor between Kearney Mesa and Escondido. Not too many years ago, it was a two lane road from Clairemont Mesa Blvd to Lake Hodges, and it was congested. It was widened to two lanes each way, it was congested. It was widened to four lanes each way, it was congested. It is still being widened with more lanes, with HOV and FasTrack lanes being extended, it is still congested. It seems that no matter how many lanes they add to that highway, the surrounding growth keeps it congested. There is no end in sight.

Over on I-5, the additional lanes from the 805 merge to SR-56 have eased congestion somewhat, but for how long?

Any sustainable, long term solution to transportation and growth should include better public transportation, commuter trains with easy access to residential neighborhoods and jobsites, better security at Park and Ride lots, longer bus hours (to avoid missing the last bus) and affordable fares for working people. Maybe even an auto train.


avatar annagrace November 9, 2010 at 5:42 pm

WM- you are so right about pointing out the limitations of the concrete fix. And you are so right about emphasizing convenient, reliable and affordable public transportation. I spent much too long this morning reading the comments at signonsandiego on this issue. Blech. Evidently cars have achieved the sacrosanct status of bearing arms. (Maybe that’s in the constitution too! Or should be…)


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