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Interstate 5-Highway 78 Interchange In A Tough Spot

Photo credit: CALTRANS

The Interchange between Interstate 5 and Highway 78 in North County

Oceanside residents will meet Tuesday to talk about how plans for a new Interstate 5-Highway 78 interchange will affect their neighborhoods.

The interchange between Interstate 5 and Highway 78 is one of the region’s major freeway interchanges, but it is still controlled by traffic lights.

Thousands of travelers are held up every day as they use the interchange to get from the main east-west corridor to the main north-south corridor through coastal North County.

It may well be years before Caltrans finds the money to build a new interchange, but a few million dollars for planning is already at work. Caltrans held a "pre-scoping“ meeting in Carlsbad in January that drew hundreds of people.

Residents of south Oceanside, where the interchange has long caused problems, have caught wind of the changes. On Tuesday night, a group known as the South Oceanside Community and Merchant’s Association, will meet to find out what options are on the table.

Oceanside City Councilman Chuck Lowery is sympathetic to their concerns.

“I do not want to have a flyover ramp 80 feet high in front of my house in Oceanside,” he said.

Widening freeways and expanding flyovers is a short-sighted way to deal with growth, Lowery said. He advocates for investment in better public transit.

Karen Jewel, Caltrans project director for Highway 78, said she will attend Tuesday night's meeting. She said this project will be challenging.

“It’s a freeway-to-freeway interchange and this happens to have a city street that one of those freeways turns into,” she said. “So it’s also one of the most complicated.”

Not only does Highway 78 empty into a residential neighborhood, the interchange will be virtually on top of the delicate habitat of the Buena Vista Lagoon, where a restoration project is in the works. Plus, the Interstate 5 widening project means the construction will have to cross 12 lanes of freeway.

Jewel said people who showed up at the last workshop were concerned about high concrete flyovers dominating what was a pleasant lagoon vista.

“That was one of the main comments we got back from that workshop, was unhappiness about that flyover,” she said. “So we’re trying to see what other options we have available.”

Nothing’s going to happen any time soon because the cost of building the interchange could be up to $250 million, Jewel said.

But local residents say they want to be in on the plans from the early stages, to make sure their voices are heard. The community meeting will be held at 6 p.m. at South Oceanside Elementary School.

Caltrans expects to kick-off formal public scoping meetings by the end of this summer.

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