On February 20, Caltrans began construction on the long awaited improvements at the I-5/Santa Fe Drive on and off ramps — on the west side of the freeway.
The southbound I-5 off-ramp is one of the few remaining intersections where exiting the freeway is not controlled by a traffic signal. It forces vehicles wanting to turn left — eastbound — to quickly scoot into traffic on Santa Fe Drive. Exiting motorists must also compete with those turning onto the freeway’s on-ramp.
Originally opened in 1964, the exit has been outdated and dangerous for years. Exascerbating traffic is the just-off-the-freeway Scripps Memorial Hospital and the Vons/Rite Aid shopping center; and one block away, San Dieguito High School Academy.
Five years ago at the interchange, a student from San Dieguito was struck and killed by a fellow student’s vehicle as he was walking back to the campus after lunch. The driver lost control on the rain-slickened road after quickly exiting the off-ramp.
Others have received traffic citations over the years for pulling out from the off-ramp and impeding the flow of eastbound traffic on Santa Fe. Regular commuters say there is sometimes no other way to exit the freeway other than jumping out into traffic.
The construction project now blocks one from turning left onto eastbound Santa Fe Drive. Westbound Santa Fe Drive under the freeway’s overpass has been narrowed to one lane.
Caltrans says the project is part of the previously approved 11-mile I-5 widening that will add one southbound express/toll lane from Highway 78 in Oceanside to Manchester Avenue in Cardiff by the Sea. The current HOV lane starts at Manchester Avenue and ends at the I-5/805 interchange.
Cardiff’s Birmingham Drive to Manchester Avenue’s HOV lane segment should be competed by late 2015.
Caltrans points out this current HOV lane addition was approved years ago and is not part of the proposed massive widening of I-5 that is still in the planning/design phase. That project may eventually add up to eight additional lanes and widen the freeway up to 75 feet on both sides.