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Public Safety

How Finishing Route-52 Started A Traffic Jam

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

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.

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.

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