On September 9, Caltrans held the last of five community meetings for the public to review the Interstate 5 environmental impact report for the proposed 27-mile freeway-widening project.
The meeting, held at Oceanside High School, attracted about 100 people. Caltrans set up information stations around the meeting room that displayed all aspects of the project: environmental, noise, neighborhoods, community, lagoons, budgets, and public transportation. Numerous Caltrans officials stood ready to answer questions. Digital images showed what the freeway and surrounding neighborhoods would be like if certain proposals were adopted.
Some residents came to see if their properties would be affected. Yes, up to 270 properties would either be taken wholly or partially. Under state law, Caltrans must offer a fair market value for any properties taken in the name of the new freeway, unlike the old California freeway-building days of the 1950s and '60s, when property openers were lucky to be offered 25 cents on the dollar.
The proposed project, stretching from La Jolla to Oceanside, will basically add 75 feet of roadway on either side of the existing freeway. Bridges will be expanded. Sound walls will be built. A public transportation component will be added to the plan so bus routes will meet up with major freeway intersections. Car-pool lanes will have direct on- and off-ramps at several crossings along the route. Commuter rail traffic will increase from 50 to 100 trains per day.
Of the three widening proposals, one will add only car-pool lanes. Two other proposals would add one or two extra traffic lanes and two car-pool lanes in each direction. What surprised many in attendance was that there was no formal hearing, no opportunity to formally voice concerns or support for the project, other than speaking directly to one of many Caltrans project engineers who may or may not have recorded the public's comments.
The deadline for public comments on the EIR has been delayed until October 7. The multibillion-dollar project is not expected to be completed until well into the 2020s.
One of two anti-freeway groups — PLAGUE (Prevent Los Angeles Gridlock Usurping Our Environment) — will hold a community meeting on September 13 at the Encinitas Community Center; Caltrans officials don’t plan to attend that meeting.