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State Law would Limit The Expansion of I-5

— Residents of San Diego County’s north coastal areas feared Interstate 5 would balloon to 14 lanes under a freeway expansion plan put forward by local planners and politicians. But a bill by State Senator Chris Kehoe would limit the expansion to two additional carpool lanes in each direction, bringing total lanes to 12.

The chairman of SANDAG, the local planning agency, said that part of the bill has the agency’s support.

Kehoe’s bill, SB 468, was introduced as a way to force the expansion of I-5 to wait until mass transit projects in the area were complete. That bill met stiff opposition from SANDAG planners and other people who thought it would unreasonably postpone the freeway's completion.

The “transit-first” elements of the bill have since been eliminated. They’ve been replaced by compromise language intended to protect air quality and the wetland environments close to the coast.

The possibility that the freeway would expand to 14 lanes was by far the most controversial piece of the I-5 plan. The large freeway footprint would have given the I-5, between La Jolla and Oceanside, 10 general-purpose lanes and 4 carpool lanes. The notorious “10+4” plan would have required condemnation of hundreds of properties.

Kehoe said her legislation would prevent that.

“My bill would maintain the smaller footprint of the road,” she said. “It saves almost all of the 400-some homes and properties that would have been taken by the bigger footprint.”

The bill goes before the senate appropriations committee next week. People who have fought the widening of I-5 reacted in a positive but cautious way. Steve Goetsch of Solana Beach, founder of the Committee Against Freeway Expansion, said the bill sounded like a step in the right direction but the final outcome is still be up in the air.

“This has a lot of moving pieces and it’s hard to keep track of,” he said.

Those moving pieces include the California Coastal Commission, which must approve construction permits, and CALTRANS, which has final authority over the freeway expansion.

Jerome Stocks, chairman of the SANDAG board, said the bill’s language that limits I-5 expansion to 12 lanes is not a big deal, because the agency was never determined to build a 14-lane freeway. Stocks added that SANDAG reexamines its Regional Transportation Plan every four years, and things could change.

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