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North County residents anticipate opening of Sprinter line, other transportation projects

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The big story of the North County transportation scene is the expected opening of the 22-mile line Sprinter rail system between Oceanside and Escondido by the end of the year.

The project, running about two years late and tens of millions of dollars over-budget, will have 15 stations along the line's length. The trains will have a maximum speed of 55 miles an hour.

The service will operate seven days a week, at 30-minute intervals on weekdays between 5 a.m. and 9 p.m. There will be a total of 64 trips daily. Train sets will have a carrying capacity of 452.

Construction is ongoing on a $1 billion effort to create a managed land system along Interstate 15. Photo: SANDAG

A projected final cost of $484 million includes right-of-way acquisition, engineering, design, construction, vehicle purchase and a 1.7-mile section of new right-of-way to serve the California State University San Marcos campus. Higher construction costs have added about $40 million to the total since February.

The Sprinter, which will provide easy access to The Coaster and Amtrak at the western end in Oceanside, may also have a spur at the eastern terminus of the line down to North County Fair. The San Diego Association of Governments is currently exploring the viability of that option.

Other large transit-related items include $1.35 billion for double-tracking the north/south coastal rail used by the Coaster and Amtrak. Another $1 billion would be used for two coastal rail tunnels used by the railroad operators to bypass the bluffs in the Del Mar area before going beneath University City.

Plans are moving forward to widen Highway 76 so it will be more drivable between Oceanside and Pala, but those portions east of Interstate 15 in particular will need at least some Native American tribal money to be completed.

The county has asked the Pauma Band of Mission Indians to mitigate a planned $300 million, 171,000-square-foot casino being built with the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation of Connecticut. The new facility would be one of the largest in Southern California, with a 400-room hotel and approximately 2,500 slot machines, and is expected to draw plenty of traffic.

The tribes wouldn't be alone in contributing to traffic -- projects with thousands of housing units have been proposed on and around the Highway 76 Corridor near the junction with Interstate 15. In all likelihood, each of these developers will need to make their contributions to Highway 76 improvements if their projects are to go forward. In any case, the widening of Highway 76, considered to be among the more dangerous stretches in San Diego County, will continue to be a high priority.

Construction is ongoing on a $1 billion effort to create a managed lane (reversible) system along Interstate 15 between the Highway 163 split to Highway 78 in Escondido.

As the middle portion of the managed lane system continues to be constructed between state Route 56 in the Rancho Penasquitos area and Centre City Parkway in Escondido, SANDAG is exploring the feasibility of developing the I-15 corridor between Highway 76 and Temecula as a toll road. Another toll road could be constructed along the I-5 between Highway 76 and San Clemente as well. SANDAG has estimated it would cost about $3 billion to redevelop those portions of I-5 and I-15 as toll roads, but much of this expense could be offset by future tolls. Sandag has said a public/private partnership would probably be the most viable vehicle for such a plan.

In the meantime, engineering work is proceeding for the planned managed lane system that will extend, by early in the next decade, from the I-5/I-805 merge in the Carmel Valley area to Vandergrift Boulevard in Oceanside.

Not all the improvements have been for rail or freeways. In July, two road segments opened that allow easy travel between Rancho Santa Fe or Rancho Penasquitos and Rancho Bernardo.

One of these segments completes Camino del Sur between San Dieguito Road and Camino del Norte before the road heads to the I-15 at the southern end of Rancho Bernardo. The other adds a segment of Carmel Valley Road in the Black Mountain Ranch area that becomes Bernardo Center Drive in Rancho Bernardo.

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