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What’s Best Way To Reduce Traffic Congestion On I-5?


Should Interstate 5 be expanded by four to MORE lanes, or is there a better solution to traffic problems plaguing the freeway on a daily basis? We discuss the options that will be considered by the California Department of Transportation as the agency works to decide what plan is best for the future of our region.

Should Interstate 5 be expanded by four to MORE lanes, or is there a better solution to traffic problems plaguing the freeway on a daily basis? We discuss the options that will be considered by the California Department of Transportation as the agency works to decide what plan is best for the future of our region.


Teresa Connors, regional news editor for the North County Times.

Scott Lewis, chief executive officer of

Tony Perry, San Diego Bureau Chief for the Los Angeles Times.

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This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

Drivers on Interstate 5 between La Jolla and Oceanside know that grid lock happens too often. Transportation officials know that too, and they're poised to do something about it. But from the first hint that the freeway could be widened to accommodate more traffic, opposition has been vehement. So Teresa, before we talk about what the opinions could be for relieving traffic congestion, first, where are the options coming from?

TERESA CONNORS: The options have been developed by the State Department of transportation. They have come up with five possibilities for expanding a 27-mile section of interstate 5 from La Jolla up to Oceanside. Option one, do nothing. Option two, you have eight lanes and add 2 Commuter Lanes. Eight lane, add 4 Commuter Lanes. Eight lanes add 4 Commuter Lanes plus 2 Additional Lanes. So it can go anywhere from 8 to 16 -- I'm sorry, 8 to 14 lanes along that stretch of road.

GLORIA PENNER: I think I read in the North County times, October�20th, as I recall, it said 18 lanes were a possibility in some areas.

TERESA CONNORS: It's astounding to think. I don't know where they're gonna put all that concrete.

GLORIA PENNER: What I'm curious about, Teresa, is who will make the final decision?

TERESA CONNORS: The final decision, technically, is gonna be made by the State Department of transportation. Politically, it's gonna be made probably by the San Diego association of governments. Which is the region's transportation agency that over sees all of the road projects in San Diego County. And essentially decides how to divvy up money. They decided last week to recommend that Caltrans expand by only four lanes as opposed to the six, which was a real signal that that's probably what we're gonna end up with.

GLORIA PENNER: Okay. Well, you've laid out the possibilities. And before I turn to the rest of the editors on the panel today, let me ask our callers, you've heard about the I-five extension, the widening. Pureeing more and more concrete into North County between La Jolla and on the other hand. I'd like to know how you feel about that. Is it time for us to spread out the freeways so that we can accommodate more traffic? Because San Diego is going to grow, certainly. Our number is 1-888-895-5727. Scott Lewis, Teresa mentioned the role of SANDAG, the San Diego association of governments. And I've been reading that this is really a power house organization.

SCOTT LEWIS: Oh, of course. It's one of the most undercovered, I think, government agencies in San Diego, in the San Diego region. This is a group of what? The 18 cities plus the county, the City of San Diego has somewhat of a weighted vote on the group, but yeah, it is the -- it is responsible for administering the half cent transnet sales tax which was renewed in 2004. So it has $50�billion at its disposal over that period of -- I don't know exactly how many billions, but a tremendous amount of money that it can wield and control and appliance major regional transportation plans. And their collective voice or decision on this will certainly have a major impact.

GLORIA PENNER: It's intelligent, Tony, because Scott said that the highway tax, I think it was called that, was reaffirmed in 2004. Actually I think it was 2006.

SCOTT LEWIS: No, it was 2004. I covered it. There might have been a different one.

GLORIA PENNER: I would not argue with that. But that's important because SANDAG's executive directive, Gary Gallegos, and reported to have said because voters approved that county wide tax, it means that voters know that this would be to expand the freeways, the highways, to accommodate more traffic. So based on that, SANDAG favors it is expansion.

TONY PERRY: Sounds about right, but I agree with brother Lewis. SANDAG issue it's always been there, it was called something different from Alonzo Horton and I arrived some years ago, but it is undercovered and it rears its head. I wonder, however, I read in my North County times that there's an 11000 page environmental impact report. And then I see that Del Mar is not happy.


TONY PERRY: I say to myself, are we at the third act of this or the first act? Could we go to court and could that slow this process down a lot?


TERESA CONNORS: Absolutely. And what's really sort of interesting is this project has been out there for a long time. It's not a surprise, it's not like the bureaucrats all of a sudden just said okay we're gonna expand the freeway. What happened was actually two small groups down in Del Mar and Solana beach who are opposed to the project started holding public meetings and rallying against the project. And that sort of took on motion, and it just went all the way up the coast. And all of a sudden you have this tremendous out cry of opposition.

GLORIA PENNER: Go ahead Scott.

SCOTT LEWIS: I think that's the most telling thing that I get from this debate. Is the ambivalence of the people who would supposedly benefit from it the most. The Carlsbad mayor is not really sure whether he supports it. Over and over, these public officials who represent supposedly the constituency who would benefit the most from the freedom it would provide of lack of congestion are not exactly lining up completely in support of it. And the people that are rallying for it are the people who would get the money to build it. .

Q. So I would think that if you have public officials from the various cities, not necessarily in alignment, that there must be some tension on SANDAG, because as you said, SANDAG is composed of elected officials.

TERESA CONNORS: It's certainly useful now that we're past the elections. So that's not factoring in with people at least being honest or at least talking directly about the project. But yes, there are definite tensions along the coast because the loss or what each community is gonna observe differs. Oceanside is gonna take less of a hit than, say, Encinitas or Solana beach, there are gonna be fewer homes lost, fewer businesses that have to relocate. So yes, there's gonna be tension among the community it is.

TONY PERRY: You know, I rise as --


TONY PERRY: Personal privilege here as I think the only I-five commuter in our small gathering here. And as such I'm every day impacted as they say by Interstate 5. But an esthetic point, I again read in my North County times, of these huge -- I presume they will be huge sound walls that will cut off my view of the water. Now it seems to me that thing from going stark raving insane on I-five as opposed to I15 is I can occasionally glance over and see the lagoon, and when I get to the track, I can see the Oceanside, when I get a little further, I can see the ocean at tory pines. Are we gonna lose all of those views, and will be there psychological relief for those of you who will feel bereft?

GLORIA PENNER: Do you have know answer for that? I think it is clear that large sound walls would block the views.

TERESA CONNORS: I think Caltrans thinks that will have to be remitigated because they're earthen berms as opposed to sound walls.


GLORIA PENNER: On that note, let's turn on our many, many callers who are joining us for this discussion. We are talking about the plan to widen I-five between La Jolla and Oceanside. And it's certainly in community discussion these days, so join our discussion. We'll start with Ian in Solana beach. You're located right there along the corridor right?

NEW SPEAKER: That is true and I can see it from where I sit right now. However, I would point out this whole discussion is that the use of the train is a real miss. I use it frequently, I love Amtrak, I love the coast. But consider the following: The schedules for the coaster do not match -- mesh with the schedule for Metrolink. So you can't just go up the coast and switch from the coaster to metro link and go into Los Angeles. Such an easy thing to do. The second thing, and maybe it's because Amtrak has sees this as competition. The second thing is, there is no shuttle between the Santa Fe depo and the airport. I don't know where the parking lots have anything to do with it. But if you want to go from Solana beach or Oceanside and catch an airplane, it's almost impossible.

GLORIA PENNER: Okay. Thank you very much, Ian, I appreciate your comment. Of course we are talking about the expansion between La Jolla and Oceanside. But I mean, if you do want to go downtown, catch the airplane, and you go to the Santa Fe depo, there could be a problem. You have to take, guess what? A taxi.

TERESA CONNORS: Yeah, the public transportation conundrum is certainly something that people talk about with the expansion. But it's very difficult. The two public agencies, the North County transit district and the metropolitan transit district that serve for buses and trains have cut back their services that they offer over the last year or two. So it's -- public transportation as an option to ease the congestion is difficult.

GLORIA PENNER: Okay. Thank you. And Ian, thanks again for your call. We turn to Victoria in Encinitas. Welcome to These Days.

NEW SPEAKER: Thank you again for having this topic. I drive that corridor all the time. I work downtown. When I hear this conversation I'm amazed because -- especially -- when I'm driving home, the grid lock isn't so much going north, it's going south. It's from the split south. Everybody in tory pines and UCSD going home. And I look at that, and I think, it's just gonna get worse. It's gonna be another bottle neck.


NEW SPEAKER: And we can't -- my brother lives in LA, I take the metro link, I can go from Oceanside to Ventura for about $14. And I looked at this, and I think, you know, the 56, how did that work out? We can't build our way out of this with concrete.

GLORIA PENNER: All right, well, Tony, let's talk about that a little bit. After 20�years of construction, 'cause that's how long it's gonna take, how much time actually would be saved traveling the Oceanside to La Jolla or the other way route? Down?

TONY PERRY: I have no idea.

GLORIA PENNER: Do you know, Teresa?

TERESA CONNORS: Let me turn that around. They say that if they don't widen the freeway, that travel times, commute times from La Jolla -- between La Jolla and Oceanside will double from about 27�minutes to 60�minutes.

GLORIA PENNER: But that's assuming again, that all of this widening would be -- or most of it would be divided to individual cars.

TERESA CONNORS: That's correct.

GLORIA PENNER: Yes, and so the public transportation option, creating some kind of a mass rail system or some kind of a trolley or bus system, that's not part of the discussion?

TERESA CONNORS: Not at this point, no.



SCOTT LEWIS: Well, I come from a City of San Diego perspective. And that's where my view comes from. But I find it continually troubling to have to subsidize the lifestyles of people that want to live far away from the places that they work continue to widen and widen and widen these freeways and yet not see anything but more widening plans. And there is a transportation plan that SANDAG has come up with, 2050, but it is very much geared towards sustaining this lifestyle of sprawl. And I don't -- I don't think that that's a sustainable situation. It will never get to the point where we can widen enough or sufficiently. So at what point do we shift the focus toward benefitting the lifestyles of people that have chosen not to do that?

GLORIA PENNER: Before we go into our break, I just want to say one caller said that the 992 bus goes from Del Mar to the airport. And very few people use it. And this caller wants to remind us that there is public transportation available in North County. Soap that's a message from a caller. We did not verify it. We are gonna take a break now. When we come back, we'll take many more of your calls. We'll also open up some other areas of this discussion. In other words, where is the opposition coming from? We already have an idea. But where is support coming from for this project? This is the Editors' Roundtable, I'm Gloria Penner.

I'm Gloria Penner, and this is the Editors' Roundtable, I'm at the round table today with Teresa Connors from the North County times, and from voice of San with Scott Lewis and Tony Perry from the Los Angeles times. We're talking about the proposed widening of Interstate five between La Jolla and Oceanside. And so far we've heard all kinds of concerns about walls that would block views, about the relocation of homes, and just the idea of mass transit not being included in the conversation, although it certainly is being included in this conversation. We'd like to hear from you. We have several callers on the line. All with different points of view. And so let's start with Paul in Oceanside. Paul, you're on with the editors.

NEW SPEAKER: Thank you for taking my call. It's interesting that some people, the dominant paper up here in North County is the North County times. And some people accept what they say as the gospel truth. But the fact is that the North County times never saw a development it didn't like. The Robertson concrete plan, which was a disaster, the Manchester development which was a flop and a failure and never happened. And now, they're saying it's automatic, it's going to happen, we have to accept it that we're gonna expand the freeway. When in fact that is not the case. They love any development no matter how awful or putrid it is. And I think that's what those of us who live in North County have to understand, that our predominant newspaper up here is simply, you know, it just loves every development that comes before us.

GLORIA PENNER: Okay. I think we got your point. I'm looking at Theresa's face and she's one of the editors of the North County. She hasn't flinched at all, Paul. Which is interesting. Expansion, let's start with that. North County times hasn't seen an expansion it doesn't love. What about this one?

TERESA CONNORS: I think the North County times said editorial, in its editorial that it believes that some sort of expansion of the freeway needs to take place in order to ease congestion. I think that we raised some concerns that we have with that expansion. I also think that we noted that nothing is cast in concrete, pun intended, at this point. So we have to be open minded. But we can't just say no expansion of the freeway. That's not gonna ease the congestion.

GLORIA PENNER: So Teresa, already there's been time and money invested in the plans from this state and local governments. Is there any way that the expansion won't happen in your estimation.

TERESA CONNORS: I don't think so.

GLORIA PENNER: Okay. So that sort of answers both sides of the question. Tony.

TONY PERRY: I just wanted to rise to the defense of North County times, as a reader, it airs out both sides pretty dog gone well of these things. It's blown the whistle on any number of strange housing developments that were planned and lead to various political rebellions. It is easy to see things only from one's own lens, and I think our caller may be subject to that. But it airs things out. Here's this and here's that, and let's move on. I think that's a canard that somehow they're pushing concrete and houses and all the rest.


SCOTT LEWIS: This is yet another example of North County ambivalence about this project. It seems like if you're gonna tear up the environment and you're gonna dump $4.5�billion of not exactly plentiful tax money into a project, perhaps you should have some unanimity and support of it. And I don't see that, and I wonder if that's an indication that perhaps it's not guaranteed.

TONY PERRY: Scott you're never gonna have unanimity.

GLORIA PENNER: How about consensus.

SCOTT LEWIS: But the people who would benefit from it, you think they would be on board.

TONY PERRY: No, I think what we're seeing is a movement that we haven't heard much of recently because of the dull drums of this recession we're in, that is the antigrowth movement. That is, I'm here, pull up the drawbridge, and I think there is a sense, widen that freeway, people are gonna barrel down from, God forbid, Los Angeles, or up from San Diego or whatever. There's a slow growth movement. There are legitimate issues here about how you deal with this monster called traffic. But I also think there's a kind of -- there's a bit of, hey, I'm here, it's okay. Let's shut those other folk out.

GLORIA PENNER: Weigh in on this, Scott, then I want to go to our caller.

SCOTT LEWIS: No, I agree. And I don't necessarily think that slow growth is -- or that, you know, urban centric growth is the pejorative that you seem to have assigned.

GLORIA PENNER: We're gonna hold it right there, otherwise we're gonna get into a debate over growth and slow growth. And I remember this debate from when peat Wilson was mayor of San Diego.

TONY PERRY: The 60s, the 70, the '80s, the 90s.

GLORIA PENNER: That's true. Let's hear from Amy from Leucadia. Join us at the editors round table.

NEW SPEAKER: Hello, thank you for taking my call. I was at several of the meetings in Solana beach regarding this and heard reporting that maybe a third of the people who spoke were in favor of the project. But I was there and it was more like a quarter who actually spoke. And most of those people were actually paid to be there by their businesses. There was someone there from the auto club and the chamber and construction. And really, there was an overwhelming number of people there who were really concerned about the green house gas effect. And I think that this has been somewhat lost in this discussion. This is an extremely serious issue. And basically by going ahead and always adding more lanes rather than looking at the larger picture of quality of life, and I mean that by real quality of life, the health of ourselves, our children, and our grand children, we're really still looking at only having a hammer so everything looks like a nail.

GLORIA PENNER: Thank you, Amy. We get the point. Green house gas emissions, more cars, more potential for it, and are people really looking into the future? And that's her point. And thanks again. I'm gonna ask Helen and Valerie and mike and all the people who are waiting on the line to speak to us to please go to our website at' Roundtable. Because we won't have a chance to get to your comments. But I do want to take some final brief comments from the editors on this. Okay, so the public comment period has been extended to November�22nd. Because of such a volume of information in the 10000 page document. How reasonable is it to expect that people worried about the construction noise or the views or the lost property or the green house gases are going to read that material? Let me ask you on that, Teresa.

TERESA CONNORS: Oh, I think the people are very invested in the project will hire teams of lawyers who will comb through all of the documents. And they will disseminate the basics of what they think we need to know. So we're gonna hear from various groups what they want us to hear, and people are gonna have to try to sift through that information the best that they can.

GLORIA PENNER: I know you're gonna hear from us on this, this is not the final discussion. Bull we're gonna move ahead because expansion is definitely in the air.

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