Drivers on Interstate 15 may have noticed new trees popping up, as Caltrans is now landscaping the first-opened section of its $1.3 billion I-15 Express Lanes project with a variety of drought-tolerant and native species.
Plantings of Canary Island pines, California pepper trees, and Chinese flame trees began within the past three months along Carmel Mountain Ranch interchanges and on/off ramps. The stretch from Camino del Norte to Rancho Bernardo Road is also being prepped for landscaping, with olive trees planned for the Rancho Bernardo Road loop ramp.
The Chinese flame trees, deciduous and with red-spotted flowers, were selected for Carmel Mountain because they have been in that community for over 25 years, said Stephen Warren, the project’s landscape architect.
The project’s middle segment -- Highway 56 to Centre City Parkway -- has a landscaping budget of over $6.4 million, which pays for plants, hydroseed mixes, mulches, rock, irrigation, labor and more, according to Stacy Keck, a Caltrans spokeswoman.
Other water-wise flora planned for use include: Torrey pines, California sagebrush, California buckwheat, lemonade berry, and Indian Hawthorn.
At the loop ramp near Lake Hodges, which begins landscaping in mid-2010, water-loving plants such as California sycamores and black cottonwood will be used to blend in with the riparian environment, but will be planted strategically to minimize watering.
Landscaping plans for the north (Centre City Parkway to Highway 78) and south (Highway 163 to 56) segments of the project are not yet complete, although the approximate landscaping budgets will be $8 million and $10 million, respectively.
When completed in 2012, the I-15 project will introduce a 20-mile, four-lane express lane facility stretching from Highways 163 to 78. The project began in November 2003. The first portion opened in September 2008.