I-5 Expansion Proposals Face Public Opposition

Daniel Yuan/Guardian

Plans to expand a 27-mile stretch of the Interstate-5 freeway from La Jolla Village Drive to Oceanside has been met with public opposition since the city announced the proposals in May.

To reduce traffic, the San Diego Association of Governments, a planning agency, and California Department of Transportation proposed to widen the current four-lane freeway by four or six lanes, divided by either painted stripes or concrete barriers.

Depending on which plan is chosen, the project would take up to 40 years to finish and cost between $3.5 and $4.5 billion.

The most costly of the proposals would add four toll lanes, separated by concrete barriers from the rest of I-5, along with two conventional lanes on the existing shoulders. The least costly option would add four middle lanes, separated by yellow stripes from the rest of the roadway.

According to UCSD’s Assistant Vice Chancellor for Strategic Campus Resource Initiatives Brian Gregory, the proposed expansion would remove Voigt Bridge, which connects the east and west sides of campus.

Gregory said the section of Gilman Drive leading up to Voigt Bridge would be moved so Caltrans can rebuild the bridge as a direct-access ramp. This will reduce traffic at two of the major overpasses on Genesee Avenue and La Jolla Village Drive.

According to Gregory, this will create more room for emergency vehicles that have difficulty passing through the highway and city streets to the hospitals — such as Thornton Hospital and Scripps Memorial Hospital — surrounding UCSD.

“I don’t know if I’d call it a negative concern, [but] people that don’t work at UCSD can access our school easily,” he said. “[The] vehicles that want to get to Genesee [will] get off at Voigt [so] they don’t need to go to the university.”

Gregory added that potential problems with transportation access to UCSD will also be identified prior to construction.

“The campus will work with Caltrans and identify any issues that will be a problem and resolve them before construction,” Gregory said.

Torrey Pines Community Planning Board Chair Dennis Ridz said Caltrans held a community forum at the UTC Westfield mall in mid-August for La Jolla residents. Although, he added, few La Jolla residents attended, since it took place in the early afternoon during vacation time. After Caltrans released an environmental impact study in June that projected the effects of the expansion, opposition formed due to the impacts on the region’s air quality, noise pollution and traffic.

The Torrey Pines Community Planning Board created a 29-page response to Caltrans’ environmental impact report. The report showed the specific harm that the I-5 expansion would have for people, wildlife and the environment.

According to Ridz, Caltrans’ results could be misleading, since the group used dated noise studies and equipment to create their report.

“A major failure is not providing the public with other alternatives, such as mass transit and discussions on how the I-5 Expansion could be coupled with new rail service — double tracking,” Ridz said.

Many of the cities ­ affected by the expansion paid to have their own environmental impact reports done. Collectively, they spent around $350,000. Of this, $280,000 was spent by various nearby cities and organizations. Solana Beach spent $85,000, Oceanside spent $80,000, Del Mar spent $65,000, Carlsbad spent $50,000. The Prevent Los Angeles Gridlock Usurping Environment Sierra Club, Cleve, National Forrest, C.A.F.E. and the San Diego Development Services joined forces to create their own surveys, which collectively cost $35,000.

Ridz said that with the current transit system, 90 percent of new capacity would be used up within three years, and within five years traffic would be worse.  Ridz also said Caltrans did not follow the requirements of the California Environmental Quality Act or the National Environmental Policy Act. These acts specify the amount of air pollution allowed by law.

“The [Draft Environment Impact Report] is poorly done and violates NEPA and CEQA rules,” he said. “I support first trying mass transit and upgrades to LOSSAN. Caltrans has failed to provide the average citizen with enough information to make an informed decision, therefore the DEIR should be withdrawn.”

Ridz noted that Caltrans will be required to respond to questions from the public as of Nov. 22, but said he was skeptical about whether they would enlighten the public.

“Caltrans will then take at least a year to answer these questions.”

At a public hearing held Nov. 8 by the state’s Senate Transportation Committee, Caltrans director Allan Kosup said that it will probably take until the middle of next year to determine which option they will choose. Construction could begin as soon as 2013.

Citizens Against Freeway Expansion member Steve Goetsch said that he is concerned about the impact the freeway expansion could have on private property.

But when the I-5 expansion idea was conceived in 2000 by SANDAG, SANDAG member and former Solana Beach mayor Marion Dodson, who authorized the I-5 freeway expansion in 2000, promised that no private property would be taken.

Goetsch said there is also concern regarding greenhouse gases that in Solana Beach and that 70 percent of greenhouse gases are caused by traffic on the I-5. If the I-5 is expanded, Goetsch continued, greenhouse gases could increase by up to 50 percent.

“[The proposal] doesn’t say a word about greenhouse gases in its thousands of pages,” Goetsch said. “It’s 1950s thinking in the 21st century.”

The San Diego Union Tribune reported that potential dangers of expanding the I-5 include a 70-percent increase in air pollution, and the possible destruction of seven ecologically sensitive lagoons.

Noise pollution and children’s health are other issues.

“I live above I-5,” Carlsbad resident Kathy Combs said. “I’m bombarded with road noise every morning when I walk my dog. Sadly, when people are in their cars driving to work or to school, they don’t hear that noise or see how much pollution is around them. I do.”

Along the I-5, there are multiple homes, schools, day care centers, playground and medical facilities, such as the Preuss Model School here at UCSD. The California Environmental Protection Agency and California Air Resources Board reported that children who live within 550 feet of heavy traffic have more medical visits than children who live further away from traffic. Medical problems such as slower lung development, asthma and bronchitis are also associated with traffic.

P.L.A.G.U.E. Chair Noel Spaid described the I-5 expansion as unworkable and a short-term solution.

“It is a failed answer,” she said. “It won’t work in La Jolla — it won’t work anywhere. It is a non-sustainable system. We are a car culture, [and the freeways] are full again in two to four years.”

According to Spaid, all the modern cities have gone to a metro system.

“Perpetually expanding freeways [doesn’t] work,” she said.   [It’s] a non-workable waste of money.”

A special council meeting held in Solana Beach on Nov. 18 shared the consultants’ report on the effects of expanding the I-5. On the CAFE Google Groups site, Goetsch said the report called Caltrans’ environmental report “ambiguous and unstable.”

The experts hired said Caltrans’ report did not follow federal and state law. becuase does not discuss a preferred option toward the project or any other mass transit options — something Caltrans is legally required to do. Solana Beach sent Caltrans a letter based on its findings.

The public had until Nov. 22 to voice opinions on the matter. Last week, State Senator Christine Kehoe (D-San Diego) said the expansion project will continue revisions and add new options to reduce traffic congestion.

Readers can contact Rebecca Horwitz at [email protected].

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