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Cal Trans Proposes Enlarging I-5

Cal Trans Proposes Enlarging I-5
Cal Trans officials, working with the San Diego Association of Governments (SanDag), have crafted a plan to improve mobility along the I-5 corridor from La Jolla Village Drive to Hwy 78 in Oceanside. The project, similar to the current expansion of the I-15 corridor, will use TransNet funds and will undergo environmental and community review. It could cost between $3.5 and 4.5 billion, depending on which version is chosen.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH (Host): I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. You're listening to These Days on KPBS. Anyone who's driven on Interstate 15 north of I-8 during the past several years is familiar with what a freeway expansion means. CalTrans has been busy building and expanding an express-lane network from San Diego to Escondido in the middle of the freeway; that network should be completed by 2012. As that major freeway project continues, CalTrans is moving ahead with plans for a similar project on I-5. If the most elaborate version of the proposals being considered is chosen, the project will include two new regular lanes in addition to a four lane express route in the middle of the freeway. Construction would cover a 30-mile stretch of freeway from San Diego to Oceanside. Here to explain this ambitious project to expand Interstate 5 are my guests. Allan Kosup is I-5 Corridor Director for CalTrans. And, Allan, good morning.

ALLAN KOSUP (I-5 Corridor Director, CalTrans): Good morning.

CAVANAUGH: Kim Kawada is TransNet & Legislative Affairs Program Director for SANDAG. Kim, thanks for being here.


KIM KAWADA (TransNet & Legislative Affairs Program Director, SANDAG): Thank you.

CAVANAUGH: And we invite our listeners to join the conversation. Do you think traffic on I-5 is bad enough to warrant a major expansion of the freeway? Do you ever use the freeway express lanes? Give us a call with your questions and your comments. Our number is 1-888-895-5727, that’s 1-888-895-KPBS. So, Allan, first of all, why does Interstate 5 need this expansion?

KOSUP: Well, I think if your listeners use the facility today, you know, typically it may take them 20 minutes to go up and down the corridor on a good day. On a bad day, it can easily take an hour. And it’s not just about commuter traffic, which people are used to but it also happens throughout the weekends in the summer season. And so as the region brings another million folks over the next 20 or 30 years, you can see how much worse that’s going to become.

CAVANAUGH: Absolutely. Now what – how has – what are the numbers of increase in how I-5 has been used over the past, I don’t know, 10, 20 years?

KOSUP: Well, you know, we really haven’t replanned that corridor for about 40 years. We’ve gotten about 40 good years of life out of that corridor and when we started, when we opened the facility in the seventies, we were running about 35,000 folks through there. Now we get 200,000-250,000 and we anticipate adding another 100,000 users in the next 20 years. So you can see how things have really changed, not just the population but how people, you know, their quality of life is different. There’s a lot more discretionary trips than there would have been in the seventies.


CAVANAUGH: And you also make the point, Allan, that I-5 is a unique freeway in the sense that it’s sort of like a gateway to San Diego.

KOSUP: Definitely, I mean, it’s not your typical urban facility in many ways. It’s got great scenic views, close communities, it’s, you know, it’s part of the communities, but then, you know, all of our coastal users, anyone going to the beach, anyone coming from Orange County, the tourism, the economic sort of engine all comes through I-5. Goods movement back and forth from the border, all those folks use I-5. One of the unique things about the region, especially in North County, there are not a lot of parallel alternatives. Really, the only choice you have is I-15 inland. You know, there just aren’t that many choices, so 5 really takes the bulk of the stress.

CAVANAUGH: So, Allan, tell us about the plans being considered for this expansion. If you would, start with the most ambitious.

KOSUP: Okay. Well, at the center of all the alternatives is essentially the I-15 model that the region is looking at throughout the county for their major interstates, and that’s the managed lane system, a freeway within a freeway, and those four lanes in the middle of the freeway would really focus on our carpool users. Our bus and transit really provides an infrastructure to give them a reliable congestion-free trip, and any additional capacity that would be available would be available through the region’s FasTrak system where people can purchase in and use that.

CAVANAUGH: And, however, the – one of the plans, the most expensive of the plans, also includes the expansion of the regular lanes of the freeway, is that right?

KOSUP: Yes. And you referred to I-15 and that’s sort of how we built I-15. We added an additional general purpose lane in each direction. But 5 is different, as we’ve talked about, than 15. There may not be enough room in terms of what the resulting impacts of that larger facility would be so that’s why we’re studying an alternative without additional general purpose lanes.

CAVANAUGH: I see. And I heard, in reading about this, I was reading about bridges and flyovers, how much of that is integrated into the plan at this point?

KOSUP: Okay, and, you know, a couple things, one is when we talk about flyovers, what we’re really talking about is direct access ramps. And if you’ve driven I-15, you see these ramps that allow you to access the middle of the freeway directly and that does a couple of things for folks. One is, it’s further incentive to use the center freeway, they don’t have to go through the adjacent interchanges, they don’t need to go through the ramp meters, and they reduce the impact to our main lanes as they kind of merge across all the 4 or 5 lanes. They have direct access. So it’s a time incentive there. So that’s what we’re kind of talking about when we talk about the flyovers.

CAVANAUGH: Okay. It’s supposed to make us all feel a little bit better. Kim – I’m speaking with Allan Kosup. He is I-5 Corridor Director at CalTrans. And Kim Kawada is TransNet & Legislative Affairs Program Director for SANDAG. And, Kim, I want to ask, what were SANDAG’s contributions to this project?

KAWADA: Well, SANDAG’s contributions, I think, initially laid out the long range vision for the region, our Regional Transportation Plan. And the Interstate 5 corridor is a very important part of that vision and our current Regional Transportation Plan, or RTP, was adopted by our board back in 2007 and it envisioned adding four new managed lanes to the I-5 corridor. So that’s sort of the start. SANDAG also administers our local sales tax program, and voters back in 2004 approved a $14 billion, 40-year measure and one of the improvements they wanted to see were additional improvements to the Interstate 5 corridor.

CAVANAUGH: And that’s where at least half of the money for this project would come from…


CAVANAUGH: …is that right?

KAWADA: …that’s correct.

CAVANAUGH: Now did SANDAG also provide any population projections or surveys about how traffic is supposed to increase on I-5?

KAWADA: Yes. I mean, as part of the Regional Transportation Plan and some of the corridor studies we do cooperatively with CalTrans, as Allan mentioned, the region, between now and about, you know, 2030 is projected to grow by another million people.


KAWADA: And what we do as part of our long range planning is take a look in, you know, where those people are traveling, how goods are moving all throughout the region. And so there is projected increases in usage along I-5.

CAVANAUGH: Well, and a lot of people want to join the conversation. We’re taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727. Let’s take a call from Victoria calling from Encinitas. Good morning, Victoria. Welcome to These Days.

VICTORIA (Caller, Encinitas): I think this is such a timely topic considering, you know, the oil spill we have now going on in the Gulf. And I grew up in San Diego and Encinitas. I commute from Encinitas to San Diego every day and I look at this and I think, you know, I don’t think we can build our way out of this with the in – with highways. It’s that reliance on oil and the automobile that we’re so used to. And I think if we took this money and put it into a good, solid affordable, reliable convenient public transportation system, it would be much more longterm bang for our buck for everybody in California. You know, commuters from Orange County, commuters from North County to San Diego and back and forth. So that’s my comment.

CAVANAUGH: Thank you for that. And let’s hear from Brendan from San Diego. Good morning, Brendan, and welcome to These Days.

BRENDAN (Caller, San Diego): Yeah, good morning. Yeah, my comment was I’m driving right now on I-15 and I commute about – I drive around all day every day all over San Diego, about 50,000 miles a year. And my concern is that every time they complete a project it seems like we’re playing catch-up. We complete the project and it almost immediately slows down. So I’m just hoping that they’re anticipating, as they talked about, the population expansion but also exactly where those, you know, where those people are going to be moving into so that we have the freeways and the expansions properly allocated.

CAVANAUGH: Brandon (sic), thanks for the call. So there are two callers now who are really sort of questioning the idea of addressing an increase in population, an increase in transportation needs, with an expansion of freeways. And I’d like you both to comment on that. Allan, if you’d start.

KOSUP: Sure. A couple of key points. When we talk about looking at the vision for the next 40 years, need to stress that in the I-5 corridor, it is not just a freeway only vision. The other part of that vision is expanding the low center rail line. And currently 50% of that rail is single track and so in order to increase frequency of trains through there, we need to double-track that line as well. And so it’s not one or the other, it’s not highway or transit, the vision recognizes both. So I think that’s one point. The second point is the managed lanes really are meant to be that sort of infrastructure where we can put transit. You know, one of the parts that is an impediment to transit is sort of its reliability and if it’s caught up in the same congestion that the average driver is, no one uses that facility. So the idea with managed lanes is it gives you that infrastructure to put buses and to encourage carpools. The last thing I would say is one of the things about managed lanes, I think that we would all agree that we can’t build our way out of congestion, and this isn’t intended to have a congestion-free facility when those additional folks come but how can you use that inside freeway more flexible (sic) as the times change and as technologies change, as land uses change. The managed lanes can be used differently today and maybe we change how they’re used in 20 years when the land use changes.

CAVANAUGH: How could you change them? What are the ideas of how that middle of the freeway, those express lanes could be changed as time goes on?

KOSUP: Well, a couple things. So the key to the managed lanes is that they’re congestion free and so that you do have that reliable trip. And initially, maybe you don’t have that demand for transit or for carpools so initially maybe there’s a lot of capacity available for single occupant users.


KOSUP: The FasTrak. But as time goes on and transit becomes more popular, carpools become more popular, there’ll be less and less space for those singles, so we always give preference to the transit and the carpool user. You know, another way that we can use those, 5, 6 years ago, folks were looking at automated highway systems and now cars are starting to include that technology where you can, you know, basically cars can move three feet apart from one another. We’re not quite there yet but 10 or 15 years from now, 20 years from now, we may be there yet – may be there. And we could turn those managed lanes into that sort of automated highway system.

CAVANAUGH: Kim, about the comments made by our listeners, the projected cost of this project is somewhere between $4.5 billion and $3.5 billion, the expansion of I-5. And I’m extrapolating from what I heard people saying is, would there be an idea to – of actually taking that money to do something brand new rather than expanding the I-5 corridor?

KAWADA: Well, I think the question or what we’re trying to focus on is not just is it better to do public transit or is it better to improve the highways. Allan mentioned our studies show that we need all of that. We need everything. And what the foundation of the long range plan had taken a look at was not just one or the other, it’s about providing choices. So it’s about double-tracking our coastal rail corridor so we can improve Coaster service, we can improve freight rail service in the corridor, we can serve the needs of the community and connect them to points north in Orange County, Los Angeles, and elsewhere. It’s also about the concept. The vision with the managed lanes was not let’s encourage carpoolers, let’s encourage van pools, bus pools, you know, sort of multiple occupant vehicles to provide them a faster way of getting to work if you are going to drive. And also with the FasTrak concept, to also allow the use and most efficient use of all the capacity, the excess capacity to let solo drivers have an option to pay to use the facility. So it’s really about providing choices for all commuters. I don’t think, you know, every day that – you know, I know I take the bus sometimes but I also drive, so it’s not one or the other.

CAVANAUGH: We are taking your calls about the proposed expansion of Interstate 5. Our number is 1-888-895-5727. And my guests are Allan Kosup. He is I-5 Corridor Director for CalTrans. And Kim Kawada is TransNet & Legislative Affairs Program Director for SANDAG. Let’s take another call. Tina’s calling us from Pacific Beach. Good morning, Tina. Welcome to These Days.

TINA (Caller, Pacific Beach): Hi. Thanks for taking my call. I’m concerned because I vaguely remember hearing something about the State of California having a budget crisis.

CAVANAUGH: Yeah, I heard about that, too.

TINA: I mean, furloughs and a lot of cities and municipalities having financial difficulties. So I just don’t know how we can contemplate throwing so much money at expanding freeways when I agree with previous caller Victoria, we need to have more effective mass transit and it’s difficult for people to get out of their own cars but if you look at the traffic that is on the freeway, it’s all individual occupants so I’d rather see, you know, probably better hours of, for example, the Coaster or something, you know, definitely something more efficient for mass transit and not expanding the freeways.

CAVANAUGH: Tina, thank you very much for your call. Let’s hear from Alana calling from San Diego. Good morning, Alana. Welcome to These Days.

ALANA (Caller, San Diego): Hi. Thank you for taking my call. I think I’m the third person with a very similar comment but I’m wondering with public transport why it is that the Sprinter, the new train up in the North County, runs every half hour all day long, $2.00 per trip, meanwhile the Coaster runs a couple of times just at the rush hours and costs $6.00 for a one-way ticket.

CAVANAUGH: Okay, I don’t know that. Let’s try to find out. Kim, would you be the person to ask about that. The Coaster? No?

KAWADA: Well, the Coaster, I mean, I think North County Transit District, our transportation partners, run both the Coaster and the Sprinter. And if you look at the different services, there’s actually a whole variety of different public transit services out there, all the way from local buses to commuter rail, which is the Coaster, to light rail, the trolley, the Sprinter. And I think how the prices are, or phases, is sort of you’re paying for the premium – the quality of service or the ability of the service. The Coaster provides pretty quick service with relatively few stops for long distance – more long distance commutes. The Sprinter is more like a trolley service where it’s stopping, you know, every half mile or so and providing access there.

CAVANAUGH: I see, so it’s like an express as opposed to a local.

KAWADA: Right.

CAVANAUGH: Yeah. Let me ask you since we’re on the question of money. Kim, you told us that the vote in 2004 allocated certain funds – funding that will go towards this I-5 expansion. Where’s the other money coming from?

KAWADA: The other money is coming from the state and federal transportation funding that the region receives. So every year we receive a certain amount of sort of what we call formula funds from the state and the federal government and SANDAG, the board, our board, allocates those funds to different projects. One of the most important things over the past several years was when voters approved the transit measure back in 2004. The board really wanted to take a look at can we jump start some of these projects that people have wanted, and so I-5, along with I-15 and several other major projects, are things that the voters had said that they wanted us to do. So we’ve used the funding that we’ve been receiving to help improve these corridors and, you know, to work on like Interstate 5.

CAVANAUGH: Right, and that money will come in from the state even though the state is in such a budget crisis.

KAWADA: Yeah, I mean, I think the budget crisis is now but this is the – The transit program is a 40-year program so over the course of that, you’re going to see some booms, you’re going to see some busts. But I think what we’re seeing is over the 40-year life it’s still a program that’s going to be maintained intact and we’re going to be able to make these improvements.

CAVANAUGH: Yes, Allan.

KOSUP: And just to add onto that, you know, the state and federal money comes from the gas tax, which is kind of a lock box. And so the gas tax isn’t used – isn’t able legally to be used for budget crisises (sic) like this. So folks pay eighteen cents a gallon on their state tax, eighteen cents a gallon on their federal tax and this is a way of the region getting back some of that matching money.


KOSUP: And also, you know, it’s important for folks to understand, when we talk about the cost of doing the rail and the freeway improvements in there, that’s not going to get built over a five-year period. That’s probably – you know, that’s a 20-year vision, 15-year vision buildout. So, as Kim says, we can match those improvements as the money is available.

CAVANAUGH: We are taking your calls, 1-888-895-5727. Let’s hear from Frank. He’s calling from Coronado. Good morning, Frank. Welcome to These Days.

FRANK (Caller, Coronado): Thank you. My question is regarding double tracking. How are you going to double track through that snake area right north of the city?


FRANK: Are you going to drill a tunnel?

CAVANAUGH: Well, thank you for that call, Frank. Allan?

KOSUP: I know the region has a number of different alternatives they’re looking at in there and especially in the Del Mar area where the train is up on the coastal bluffs. I think the decision’s been made to move – in order to double track, we would have to move it off the bluffs and probably are looking at tunnels in the lagoon area, so that is part of the equation. I want to go back to one of your previous callers, you know, they talk about why not just transit or why not… You know, and I think one of the key parts is that we have different customers and different customers have different needs. And just like some, you know, need that type of transit that may stop every mile or two, and some are trying to get to work and it’s a 20-mile trip. The same is true with the freeway. You know, we’ve got people coming down from Orange County, we’ve got people who are trying to get to the coast and on the same hand, because a lot of the arterials don’t go over the lagoons, we might have people just getting on for a mile or two. And a lot of those different types of customers don’t respond well to, you know, some types of transit services. And you also need to deal with the hand you’ve sort of been dealt, and that hand has topography issues, you know, the ocean there, but it also has land use decisions that we’ve made over the many years. And so in a lot of places, the densities just aren’t there for high level transit service compared to other places like San Francisco or New York.

CAVANAUGH: Now as you’ve been describing this it seems like that some of this expansion might, indeed, come in conflict with some environmental concerns. What areas have you identified along this expansion route that are going to have to be resolved environmentally?

KOSUP: And I think as you started the interview, you were talking about it’s a special route, and I think we all recognize that. Esthetically, it’s very important, visually there’s great views of the coast. We cross six lagoons so water quality is extremely important to us. As the rail and the freeway were built many years ago we weren’t as sensitive to those lagoons as we would be now, and so this project actually gives us opportunities to make improvements in those areas and to actually improve the way the water’s flowing in those lagoons and to improve the quality of water that’s coming off our facility and getting into those lagoons, to address some of the noise issues that folks have up and down the corridor. So we really see it as an opportunity to make some improvements from an environmental perspective.

CAVANAUGH: And yet I would suppose not everybody see it that way. What have you heard? What kind of problems are people identifying with this expansion project environmentally?

KOSUP: Well, and I think it’s important to point out that this has sort of been a multi-year effort and that effort has reached out to a lot of our stakeholders, a lot of our permitting agencies, our resource agencies, the lagoon foundations, and I think for the most part, you know, those folks, we’ve worked with them to identify the appropriate tradeoffs. I think there are a lot of, maybe not a lot of folks but there are some folks who are concerned about the level of paving, about the potential for noise. When the document comes out, when the environmental document comes out, people can see some of those specifics and see how we address those concerns.

CAVANAUGH: And when are you expecting the environmental review to come out?

KOSUP: We anticipate the document public review process to start in July.


KOSUP: There will be five public meetings up and down the corridor. Folks will have 90 days to provide comment. And we’ll work with newsletters and fact sheets and that sort of stuff to get the word out.

CAVANAUGH: Let’s take another call. Tomas is calling us from San Diego. Good morning, Tomas. Welcome to These Days.

TOMAS (Caller, San Diego): Good morning. Thank you very much for receiving my call or taking my call, rather.

CAVANAUGH: You’re welcome.

TOMAS: Yes, I’d like to comment on a couple of things. Number one, first of all, I can’t believe that we’re actually being proposed – that it is being proposed to us that we spend more money. We hear all this talk about the budget and no funds for this, no funds for that, education, etcetera. And here we’re now proposing to spend $4 billion plus for something that really is not needed. Literally why I don’t think it is needed, that there is an increase in traffic is very, very true, however, by doing this development it’ll only encourage more cars to come onto the road, number one. Number two, it’ll benefit the developers. The developers are going to move in as soon as this thing is commenced, as soon as they start, they’re going to propose new housing sections, new commercial sections. Before long, the traffic would be horrendous, all encouraged by the development of this project, thus bringing in the developers. Finally, we’re trying to wean ourselves out of the use of petroleum products, out of gasoline, the use of the vehicle. And this does nothing but encourage more use. I don’t understand why we’re doing it at this time. I think it’s totally useless. It’s counterproductive and it should not be considered at all.

CAVANAUGH: Tomas, thank you so much for your call. I want to ask you, Kim, SANDAG must be looking at the angles that Tomas was talking about, how attractive this might be for more development along the I-5. What have you been thinking about that?

KAWADA: Well, I think part of it is we don’t – the transportation plans, ultimately the foundation lies in our land use plan, so how 18 cities in the county plan to grow, what they envision for residential development, for jobs in the region. We take that information and look at our – their existing network and improvements that need to be made there. So I don’t think it’s about that new growth is going to come. I think growth is planned and forecasted (sic) to occur. And the transportation system needs to help not serve just our current 3 million people who live here but the new folks that are going to come to the region based upon our land uses.

CAVANAUGH: Let’s take another call. Bruce is calling from La Jolla. We only have a minute or two, Bruce, so if you could be brief.

BRUCE (Caller, La Jolla): Yes, thank you. My concern is regarding the problem to increase use of train, Coaster, that sort of thing. One of the big problems that people have is they’re limited in time. Time is the one resource we can’t get back. That last mile is a killer. Is there any plan to improve the last mile situation once I get to my station in Carlsbad or whatever?

CAVANAUGH: Thank you, Bruce. Any improvement in that last mile?

KAWADA: Well, that’s definitely something we’re taking a look at. I mentioned our long range plan, we’re actually updating it again, working on another update and actually looking out to the year 2050. And part of that, we’re looking at a whole visioning exercise for public transit and we’ve heard from users, current users, from folks who want to see improvements, that that last mile is critical, so, yes, that’s definitely something we’re taking a look at, whether we can have circulators in certain areas, shuttle service, streetcars, to connect you to your jobs and to your homes, that last mile of transit.

CAVANAUGH: We are out of time. I think we’ll have to revisit this issue. I’ve been speaking with Allan Kosup and Kim Kawada. Thank you both so much for speaking with us today.

KAWADA: Thanks, Maureen for…

CAVANAUGH: And I want to remind everyone that a series of five public hearings will be held this summer to present the plan to the public and gather input. The plan will also be available on the CalTrans website. If you’d like to comment, Stay with us for hour two coming up in just a few minutes here on KPBS.