Wednesday, August 4, 2010
CalTrans is presenting the options for expanding the I-5 corridor from UTC to Oceanside, taking public comment and answering questions on the four proposals.
Upcoming CalTrans presentations on I-5 Expansion:
Aug. 17: Carlsbad's Faraday Center, Room 173A-173B
Aug. 24: Solana Beach's Skyline Elementary School, Activity Room
Sept. 9: Oceanside High School, Multipurpose Room
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH (Host): San Diegans are getting a chance to comment on the proposed North Coast Corridor expansion of Interstate 5. Caltrans is presenting a variety of plans and the most ambitious would add 6 lanes, including carpool lanes from just south of the 5/805 merge up to Oceanside. A series of public meetings to gather comments and answer questions about the expansion are underway. KPBS reporter Kyla Calvert attended the first meeting and is here to tell us about it. And good morning, Kyla.
KYLA CALVERT (KPBS Reporter): Good morning.
CAVANAUGH: Thank you for coming in.
CALVERT: Thank you for having me.
CAVANAUGH: Now how are the public meetings held by Caltrans, how are they going? Do people seem receptive to the plans? Or do you hear grumbling or anything?
CALVERT: Well, I mean, I think that people at the meetings, a bulk of them, agree that something needs to be done about congestion on I-5. That said, I think most of them are also grumbling about the plan to expand the freeway. You know, people don’t want to sit in traffic but nobody’s excited about road construction, nobody’s excited about potentially seeing more freeway lanes outside their kitchen window.
CAVANAUGH: Right, right. Now, I would imagine people don’t go into these meetings with their minds made up, do you feel? Or are they really, really looking at what Caltrans is proposing?
CALVERT: I think it’s a mix, definitely. I think that there are some people who come to the meetings looking for answers to very specific questions that have to do with their property or their commute or, you know, and then there are other people who are dead set against the expansion and they’re just there to register their, you know, they’re dead- settedness against it.
CAVANAUGH: Their complaints right off the top.
CAVANAUGH: Now the main concern, what does the main concern seem to be?
CALVERT: Well, I mean, people have a lot of different concerns but I think that across the board people are wondering why we’re not looking more at public transportation or they don’t believe that enough looking at public transportation has been done. So…
CAVANAUGH: Instead of widening the freeway, making it more accessible to more cars, people are asking why don’t you give us more buses…
CALVERT: Trains and…
CAVANAUGH: Is Caltrans managing to convince people that public transportation is included in the plans that they’re offering for this expansion?
CALVERT: You know, I really think that that’s part of Caltrans’ message that they have not been as successful in getting out to the public or that, you know, just isn’t being heard by all of the people voicing that concern.
CALVERT: You know, I did speak with the Caltrans director for the corridor, Alan Kosup, and, you know, he told me that the expansion of the freeway is just part of something that’s being called a Regional Transit Plan and, you know, I think we have that…
CAVANAUGH: A clip right now from him…
ALAN KOSUP (Director, Caltrans North Coast Corridor I-5 Expansion): That larger regional vision includes expansion of the Coaster line, double tracking that, and basically doubling the number of trains that are on that as well as the bus rapid transit that would sit on top of the managed lanes. The managed lanes really act as sort of the infrastructure that allows transit to have that priority. Because right now, if we put transit in the corridor, buses in the corridor, they’re going to be stuck in the same traffic everyone else is.
CAVANAUGH: And so the interesting thing I thought about your report that played earlier this morning on Morning Edition is the idea that you kind of went behind those requests for more public transportation to find out how people were actually using the public transportation that exists. So are people using that?
CALVERT: Well, some people are. But in the last two years, there’s been a decline in ridership for all of the North County Transit services and, you know, especially for the Coaster train that runs right along the I-5. So there’s plenty of traffic and there’s people who are sitting in that traffic who are choosing not to get on the train and use those empty seats, definitely.
CAVANAUGH: Right. Some – I think a Caltrans official told you that there’s some decline in ridership on the Coaster because perhaps of the recession.
CAVANAUGH: But your point was, you know, the freeway’s still crowded so why aren’t people using that. Do we know why people aren’t using the public transportation that’s available?
CALVERT: Well, part of it is that the public transportation doesn’t go where everyone needs to go. You know, one of the people that I spoke with at the meeting in Encinitas last week was saying that she commutes to Kearny Mesa and, you know, her point was that there is no public transit to get there. And, well, there are buses to get there but the ride would – you have to get on three different buses and it would take over two hours. So for anyone who is physically and economically able to drive a car, why would you choose to spend four hours of your life communiting (sic) every day.
CALVERT: You know, commuting to and from work, you know.
CAVANAUGH: So is it any better for people who live near the Coaster stations?
CALVERT: Well, you – yes and no. It certainly makes it easier to get on the Coaster but the reality of our lives and especially for people who live in North County is that we’re not going from one destination to another and back.
CAVANAUGH: Not from A to B.
CALVERT: Not from A to B.
CALVERT: Exactly. And the things that we need to do are not always near the train station and that was a point that Brian Taylor, the director of UCLA’s Institute for Transportation Studies made to me about just the way we live our lives and whether or not that’s conducive to using something – a service like the Coaster.
BRIAN TAYLOR (Director, Institute for Transportation Studies, University of California Los Angeles): What you find out is that that person actually is dropping her kid off at daycare, which is not near the station, and then is going to her bank and then going to work, and on the way home has to go over and pick up some groceries but on the way stops over and grabs some takeout Thai food, then goes to daycare and comes home. And has essentially done errand running on the way to and from work.
CALVERT: And so, you know, he made the point that only 15% of people in their cars are actually on their way to or from work. And I think that we think of the time we spend in the car as much more, oh, we’re just commuting.
CALVERT: But we’re not, you know. 40% of the time, he said, we’re doing – we’re running those errands and then, I mean, who knows what we’re doing the 35% of the time. I don’t know.
CAVANAUGH: I’m speaking with KPBS reporter Kyla Calvert and we’re talking about the series of public meetings that the Caltrans is sponsoring to present plans for the proposed North Coast Corridor Expansion on Interstate 5. And we’re also talking about the kind of background report that Kyla gave us about the use of public transportation in San Diego County. Now just to take the – your interview with Brian Taylor a little bit farther, I think that what he said is that this I-5 expansion might actually increase the use of public transportation. Why is that?
CALVERT: Sure. I mean, if we go back to what we just heard from Alan Kosup, you know, the proposal to expand the freeway includes these managed lanes which are for high occupancy vehicles, vehicles that have paid to get out of the more congested lanes, and for rapid bus transit. And so, you know, rapid bus service is a little bit more flexible, obviously, than a train that has to run on a track. And by providing these lanes that are being paid for by, you know, cars that are paying to get into them partially, you know, it supports this infrastructure and makes providing this service more sort of economically feasible for the trip.
CAVANAUGH: And it might not take two hours.
CALVERT: Right, exactly. It might not take two hours because, you know, you might not have to actually get on three buses. That was another point that Brian Taylor from UCLA made, is that once someone has to basically transfer more than once in their commute, it’s over. They’re not – They’re looking to get back in their car. So…
CAVANAUGH: So besides this emphasis that the people attending this meeting wanted Caltrans to put on public transportation, what other concerns did you hear about?
CALVERT: I think that the other thing that people are sort of most concerned about, you know, in their personal lives is the noise consideration and whether adding these lanes is going to increase the noise that people living along the freeway already hear from the traffic.
CAVANAUGH: And so what did Caltrans say to that?
CALVERT: Well, basically Caltrans says that the standards for noise are set by the Federal Highway Administration so the Federal Highway Administration says that the noise from traffic can reach 52 decibels inside your home, which is, I guess, 50 decibels is roughly what the sound of your dishwasher running if you’re in the next room. So it’s audible…
CALVERT: And then outside the sort of threshold is 67 decibels and then I guess normal conversation hovers around 60. So, again, audible. But those thresholds then Caltrans has to sort of consider how to abate the noise.
CAVANAUGH: And that would be like with walls or something like that?
CALVERT: With walls or, you know, I – Those are, I think, the most – the things that people think of when they think of noise abatement certainly.
CAVANAUGH: Absolutely. You know, we just had a caller who talked to our producer and said the reason that she didn’t take the Coaster was because it was $12.00 a day.
CAVANAUGH: So I guess cost has something to do with it as well. Let me ask you, though, so there’s noise and the potential for noise abatement. Were there other concerns as well? Did people ask whether or not this was going to bring a lot of jobs into the area? Or anything like that?
CALVERT: I did run into a labor representative who was there to find out sort of what percentage of people, you know, the – what percentage of local workers might be employed and, certainly, you know, this is going to be – This could mean a lot of construction jobs and whether they go to local workers or not is obviously a concern for people in that industry.
CAVANAUGH: And I would imagine the sensitive environmental areas, too, drew some people and voiced their concerns.
CALVERT: Yeah, certainly. I think, you know, there’s seven lagoons that the I-5 spans through that corridor and I spoke with a woman who was with a lagoon preservation organization in Carlsbad and, you know, and she wasn’t against the expansion necessarily but just sort of interested in seeing what they’re doing to – The freeway sort of already impacts these lands and if they can sort of reduce those impacts through this more comprehensive approach to that stretch, then I think that those people might not necessarily be opposed to seeing more freeway.
CAVANAUGH: Now what are these hearings actually like? I mean, they’re not – First of all, they’re not hearings, necessarily, they’re public meetings.
CAVANAUGH: How are they set up?
CALVERT: They’re open houses. So, you know, you walk in and there’s a place to sit down and watch a video about the project that sort of lays out the argument for making this expansion or putting in these new lanes. And then there are lots of drawings and mock-ups of where the lanes would go and where the new on and off ramps and all of those things would be. And then there are different stations sort of set up and one is a station with a court reporter where you can dictate your comments and submit them to the record. There’s a table where you can write your comments down and submit them. And then there are tables where you can ask your questions about noise level, about the actual design of the freeway, about environmental impacts, about, you know, all of those things. And there are Caltrans representatives there to sort of address your questions.
CAVANAUGH: And I think that you got some information that people perhaps wanted hearings instead of open houses.
CALVERT: There are – I definitely ran into some people who did. One of them was a man named Ken Scott who was mostly concerned with noise and was not exactly happy with the information that he was getting.
KEN SCOTT (Concerned Citizen): …going to have something like this, have some people that are going to be part of the decision making process show up instead of sending a bunch of smiley-faced, nice, genteel bureaucrats that don’t have any answers.
CALVERT: So, I mean, you know, he thought that…
CAVANAUGH: Oh, my.
CALVERT: …all of the people that he was talking to were very pleasant and…
CALVERT: …and trying to be helpful but he didn’t think that he was really – And I heard this from multiple people, that they didn’t feel like there was access to decision makers or people who they could really hold accountable for, you know, what may or may not come out of this project.
CAVANAUGH: Now, I’m wondering, taking – going with the sort of frustration and the comments that we just heard, is there – is this just a form formality, these meetings? I mean, is this project inevitable? Is I-5 going to be widened no matter what they hear?
CALVERT: Well, you know, Alan Kosup told me that these – the comments that people submit basically go into what’s called the Environmental Impact Report and they are used in choosing which design option to move forward with and, you know, those options are adding just two managed lanes in either direction with a couple of different sort of barrier options between the regular lanes. And then another option is adding the two managed lanes plus a general lane, which is the sixth lane option. And then, I mean, there is the option of doing – making no changes.
CALVERT: How ever likely or unlikely that is, you know. I mean, Caltrans is not saying that the decision’s made, obviously, but there’s definitely a feeling among some people that it is. So…
CAVANAUGH: Right. It’s just how big it’s going to be.
CAVANAUGH: Kyla, thank you so much.
CALVERT: Thank you.
CAVANAUGH: I’ve been speaking with KPBS reporter Kyla Calvert. Now the next public meeting on the Caltrans I-5 expansion is in Carlsbad on August 17th. You can get a list of the I-5 meetings on our website, that’s KPBS.org/thesedays, and you can also comment online if you’d like. Coming up, new HIV research is opening up questions about confidentiality. That discussion as These Days continues here on KPBS.