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How Finishing Route-52 Started A Traffic Jam

— If you build it they will come. That’s the operative principal when it comes to building new freeways. And while San Diego’s Route-52 isn’t exactly new (it has been under construction for 15 years) CALTRANS just finished its final leg, which goes east from Highway-125 until it connects to Highway-67 in Santee.

Route 52 traffic In San Diego jams up around Mast Boulevard where it narrows to two lanes. April 15, 2011.
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Above: Route 52 traffic In San Diego jams up around Mast Boulevard where it narrows to two lanes. April 15, 2011.

That’s what they built and that’s when they came. Traffic piled onto the freeway via the new stretch of road and it created a royal mess of congestion. One motorist told me his westbound commute on 52 increased from 30 minutes to 45 minutes.

Aren’t new freeways supposed to make congestion less of a problem? That’s the question I put to Joel Haven, the Route 52 corridor director for CALTRANS. He began by telling me he’s not surprised by the additional traffic and congestion.

“It’s something that we kind of expected. There’s a section there between Mast Boulevard and 125 that’s only a two-lane section. And we anticipated some additional congestion in that area,” he said.

So is there something you can do about it?

“It’s a little too early for us to react to that,” Haven said. “We usually wait two months before we go in and take a more detailed look at it. When we open a new section of freeway it takes a few months for things to get settled down.”

By “settling down” he’s talking about people trying the new freeway and deciding whether they like it, or whether it makes more sense to go back to their old way of getting around.

That two-lane bottleneck near Mast Boulevard will eventually be widened to three lanes, according to Haven. So, lest you were concerned, CALTRANS is contemplating a very Southern California solution: Paving the way to a better future. At no time did Haven suggest that people stuck on 52 should just stay home.


Avatar for user 'TomW'

TomW | April 15, 2011 at 4:36 p.m. ― 4 years ago

"...go back to their old ways" seems to be already happening. Traffic on Mission Gorge and Mast is increasing again after falling dramatically following the opening of the new segment. Some people at the grand-opening ceremonies several weeks ago were already predicting the bottleneck.

Plus, afternoon traffic on eastbound SR-52 is worsening daily, now often backing-up to SR-163 from SR-125 - over 6 miles.

So, yes, I guess CALTRAN's just "kind of expects" immediate obsolescence.

(Thanks for the report, Tom!)

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Avatar for user 'elcajonmama'

elcajonmama | April 16, 2011 at 11:38 a.m. ― 4 years ago

See my love letter to the 52 corridor :)

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Avatar for user 'brixsy'

brixsy | April 16, 2011 at 3:48 p.m. ― 4 years ago

We need to move away from the mentality of just building more roads and highways. Traffic will just get worse and worse. Freeways just tend to lead to decay, with people throwing their trash by the roadside, leaving tires behind, and eventually the plants in the median are dead. The density is there for more public transit (I'd favor the trolley, it's cleaner and less prone to delays than the bus), the political will is what's lacking.

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Avatar for user 'Tom Fudge'

Tom Fudge, KPBS Staff | April 18, 2011 at 8:39 a.m. ― 4 years ago

Does the writer of the love letter feel betrayed, now that 52 is full of congestion?

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Avatar for user 'elcajonmama'

elcajonmama | April 18, 2011 at 11:56 a.m. ― 4 years ago

I do not feel betrayed. I may not see all of the faults that others do, because our relationship is not the same as others have--I guess I'm just fortunate that we are able to have more private time together! My advice is that if others feel the relationship is not satisfying, then perhaps they should just go back to their old ways. I am still in love, imperfections and all.

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Avatar for user 'Tom Fudge'

Tom Fudge, KPBS Staff | April 22, 2011 at 2:17 p.m. ― 4 years ago

I'm guessing CALTRANS would be happy if a lot of people went back to their old ways.

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