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Caltrans to tackle widening of I-5 and I-805 merge

Construction is about to begin on one of the most innovative and most costly highway improvement projects in San Diego County history. The widening of the interchange between Interstates 5 and 805 in Sorrento Valley, commonly called the "merge" or the "split" depending on the direction of travel, has some lofty goals and comes with a price tag to match.

The $182 million project is the first major project in San Diego County to be funded by Governor Gray Davis' Traffic Congestion Relief Program.

Governor Davis hosted a groundbreaking ceremony for the project on Feb. 28. The governor was joined at the ceremony by California Department of Transportation Director Jeff Morales and the Secretary of the Business, Housing and Transportation Agency Maria Contreras-Sweet.

"This has been a challenging and rewarding project to work on," said Arturo Jacobo, Caltrans project manager. "Trying to build this new configuration while still accommodating more than 200,000 cars a day traveling through the work area will be extremely difficult."

During the five years of construction, crews will build a separate freeway bypass system from the interchange to Del Mar Heights Road making the freeway 12 lanes wide. A new interchange will be constructed at Carmel Mountain Road, carpool lanes will be constructed and, on southbound I-5, auxiliary lanes will be added.

The "dual freeway" design will construct a set of truck and local access lanes parallel to the existing I-5 lanes allowing effectively two freeways to exist separated by a concrete safety barrier. The inside freeway will be used by motorists traveling through the area and the outside freeway by motorists wanting access to state Route 56 or Carmel Mountain Road. Heavy trucks will also use the outside set of lanes.

By separating thru-traffic from motorists merging on and off the freeway, the project is expected to reduce congestion in the area for the next 20 years. In the past 15 years, traffic volumes have jumped from about 75,000 vehicles per day to the current 261,000 vehicles per day. Traffic projections for the year 2015 indicate volumes will be close to doubling the current figure.

"When this project is done, motorists can expect a safer easier ride through an area that has been somewhat of a bottleneck for years," said Jacobo.

Construction of the entire project is expected to be complete in early 2007, but motorists will see relief from congestion much earlier. The northbound lanes will be completed in summer 2005 allowing commuters an easier drive through the area.

During construction, no lanes will be closed during commute times, and no long-term major detours will be needed. All existing lanes will be open for motorist's use during commute times.

In the future, motorists can look forward to plans to extend the widening of I-5 north of Del Mar Heights Road. Projects to continue widening I-5 will also include the extension of carpool lanes all the way to Camp Pendleton.

Nipper is media information officer at Caltrans.

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