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Construction complete on bridge replacement in county's worst traffic bottleneck

Construction has been completed in the replacement of the Nordahl Road Bridge in San Marcos, a project expected to bring some relief to what’s considered the county’s worst corridor for afternoon traffic bottlenecks.

The bridge crosses state Route 78 and is just east of the connection between SR-78 and Barham Drive, and west of Interstate 15, with the freeway ramp there connecting to Mission Road.

Traffic around the interchange ranks among the most congested in the nation, with traffic information firm INRIX rating the 4.2-mile stretch of eastbound SR-78 between Mission Road and Rancho Santa Fe Road as the 61st worst bottleneck in the nation, and the worst in San Diego County.

“This intersection is a major intersection not only for San Marcos, but also for Escondido,” San Marcos Mayor Jim Desmond said.

The interchange is the main feeder to the Nordahl Marketplace, a major shopping center, while on the other side of the freeway, it’s also a major interchange for traffic going into the new Palomar Medical Center.

“We were trying have them both be done about the same time, and we were within about three months,” Desmond said.

The cities of San Marcos and Escondido each gave $5 million toward the project, working with Caltrans and the San Diego Association of Governments to complete the $41 million project on time and on budget. An additional $1.3 million companion project reconfigured the Nordahl and Montiel Road intersection.

“It was a concerted effort that’s hopefully going to relieve some of the parking lot that we call the Highway 78,” Desmond said.

Additional relief in the corridor is already in the works with an auxiliary lane under construction in between Woodland Parkway and the new Nordahl interchange, and SANDAG’s 2050 Regional Transportation Plan calls for further relief through the years with plans to expand all of SR-78 west of the I-15 to four lanes in each direction by 2020.

“This isn’t going to be a cure-all,” but it’s a good starting place, Desmond said.

The bridge replacement took about 10 months to complete.

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