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Caltrans 2-year budget includes many new ramps, carpool lanes and new freeway

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Through the current and next fiscal years, there are more than $1.7 billion worth of projects to be undertaken by the California Department of Transportation in District 11, which encompasses San Diego and Imperial counties.

The upcoming budgets contain a number of large projects, the largest of which is the proposed construction of the new state Route 11 and a connecting port of entry to the Mexico border.

At a cost of $538 million, the new highway and border crossing dominate a budget totaling 91 projects -- 58 scheduled for the 2011-12 fiscal year and 33 for 2012-13.

Between late 2011 and the summer of 2013, a total of 12 Caltrans projects of at least $30 million each are slated to begin construction in District 11.

Many of them are projects of the San Diego Association of Governments, the region’s planning organization, that have been assigned to Caltrans for oversight.

Jose Nuncio, SANDAG’s manager of financial programs, said a great deal of the projects will bring long-awaited relief for many high-congestion areas, such as the state Route 76 corridor.

Already under way through previous fiscal-year budgets, the improvements being made to that North County highway will continue with the construction of a new SR-76 interchange at Interstate 15, set to begin late May 2012 with a cost of $32.5 million.

Other $30 million-plus projects scheduled for a start in the 2012-13 fiscal year include the addition of express lanes on Interstate 805 from Palomar Street to state Route 94 for roughly $110 million; the extension of carpool lanes and a direct access ramp on another section of southbound I-805, ending at state Route 52; and the $47 million construction of direct access ramps for managed lanes to be added to I-15 near Mira Mesa and Scripps Ranch, along with a transit center at Miramar College near Hillery Drive.

“It will provide more transportation choices to the Scripps Ranch area, especially in terms of access to the bus rapid transit along the I-15 corridor to downtown,” Nuncio said of the expected benefits.

The project will complete the corridor, he said, adding to the existing rapid transit lanes, and the ramps already built in the Sabre Springs and Rancho Penasquitos areas.

The work on the southern section of I-805 has been split into two segments, scheduled to begin construction in April and July of 2012. The I-805 carpool lane extensions ending at SR-52 will begin construction next June and is expected to take just under three years to complete.

The 2012-13 fiscal year entails more than double the total Caltrans workload in District 11, with over $1.2 billion in projects scheduled.

Highlights include the construction of northbound and southbound carpool lanes on a long stretch of Interstate 5 in North County, and soundwalls along the same stretch.

Those projects come with a price tag of $300 million altogether, funded mainly with TransNet sales tax money.

The new SR-11 and port of entry are scheduled for construction beginning in September 2013.

The highway is designated to be a toll road, with the new port of entry being built to the east of the current Otay Mesa Port of Entry.

Though some state and federal money was fronted for the planning phases, a significant portion of the project cost will be paid for mostly through incoming tolls, Nuncio said.

“I think they’re very supportive,” Nuncio said of the community reaction to the planned toll road and checkpoint.

“Also keep in mind,” he added, speaking to associated costs, “it’s not just for the toll road, it’s also for the (port of entry) facility itself.”

All available stimulus funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, Nuncio said, has already been allocated to under way projects, with the current improvements to SR-76 and I-805 using the last dollars.

In addition, Nuncio noted, many revenue sources have shrunk as the state economy has continued to struggle.

But those two facts, he added, don’t necessarily mean the scope of local projects is destined to shrink as well.

“Even though revenues did decrease because of the economic recession, the cost of constructing highways -- infrastructure -- has gone down even further than that,” Nuncio said. “So even though we’re collecting less money, we’re actually able to buy more construction stuff, if you will.”

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