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Caltrans to focus on traffic management in 2014

A downturn in new freeway infrastructure projects is on the horizon for San Diego County, but many projects — from rail to highways and bike paths — are still in the pipeline for 2014, according to the region's transportation planning agencies.

Laurie Berman, district director for the regional office of the California Department of Transportation, said last week that Caltrans' focus is transitioning from general purpose lane expansions to more traffic management. The new direction is meant to provide travelers with more choices and more information, she said, while maintaining or updating existing infrastructure.

The information-providing additions coming with the new focus, Caltrans said, are not under construction in the usual sense, but are digital and technological.

"Much of our work is about smart management of the transportation system," Berman said.

In the past year, she said, Caltrans has developed technology to provide expanded messaging for highway travel times, including changeable message signs at southbound Interstate 15 and Miramar Way, and at northbound state Route 163 at Kearny Villa Road.

Comment from travelers has been positive since adding the features in 2013, Berman said, adding that Caltrans' QuickMap mobile website allows travelers to see traffic and construction information on their routes in real time.

New construction in 2014 from Caltrans and the San Diego Association of Governments — some of which has already begun — is scheduled to include the bridge seismic retrofit and rehabilitation project on state Route 163 at the Cabrillo Bridge-Laurel Street overcrossing, and construction of the Centerline Bus Rapid Transit Stations on Interstate 15 at El Cajon Boulevard and University Avenue.

Those two projects, both estimated to cost nearly $38 million, show the range of what's to come this year and the length of construction. The retrofit and rehabilitation of the Cabrillo Bridge, for instance, is scheduled to be done this summer; the bus rapid transit stations are set to be completed by summer 2016.

Traffic-lane additions are on the 2014 list, such as the $100 million construction of a four-lane expressway on state Route 76 from South Mission Road to I-15 through Bonsall. But projects like that had largely already been under construction before the year began. The state Route 76 expressway project is expected to be complete by winter 2017.

In all, Caltrans plans to continue or start work on roughly $730 million in major projects. Aside from the state Route 76 expressway — the most expensive of the projects — the biggest price tag comes with the $86 million continuing construction of express lanes on the north segment of Interstate 805, from roughly state Route 52 to Mira Mesa Boulevard; it's expected to be done by winter 2015.

Next in line would be the $76.5 million construction of connectors on state Route 11 to state Route 905, and the construction of state Route 11 to Enrico Fermi Drive.

The south segment of express lane additions to I-805 from East Palomar Street to the I-805/state Route 94 connector continues from 2013 at an estimated project cost of $54 million. Completion date is scheduled for spring. The related construction of the East Palomar Street direct access ramp on I-805, estimated to cost $43 million, is expected to be done by winter.

SANDAG also aims to build up its bus rapid transit system in the South Bay this year, and will award projects to contractors this summer. The projects involve building BRT lanes in segments, with the first from Palomar Street to Olympic Parkway this fall.

Segmental construction is planned to continue until the BRT line reaches the Otay Mesa border crossing, where SANDAG hopes for service to begin in fall 2016.

"BRT is a key component — one of the ways we provide more choices for travelers," said Gary Gallegos, executive director of SANDAG. "A lot of those BRT facilities end up downtown [San Diego]. "

On the rail side of transportation, plans include completing upgrades to the San Diego Trolley's Blue Line and a look toward the planned Mid-Coast Trolley Extension Project.

The Mid-Coast project will extend the trolley north of Interstate 8 for the first time, with a line from UCSD to University Towne Centre. The environmental document is expected to be complete by summer, Gallegos said. The date for a groundbreaking will depend on the funding SANDAG is able to get from the federal government, which SANDAG estimated would roughly cover the second half of costs.

"We have a pretty aggressive schedule," Gallegos said. "We hope to start this trolley extension by 2015."

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