A group of residents have begun organizing a fight against a proposed‘fly-over freeway ramp from westbound state route 56 to the northbound Interstate 5, a ramp they fear will bring noise, soot and cut-through traffic to the Torrey Pines and Carmel Valley neighborhood.
It’s easy to dismiss their concerns when CalTrans says the project won’t be started until 2035. But the 1,000-page environmental impact statement and report has been completed and their opportunity to comment ended in 2012.
“We spent five years meeting with them and going over the details and we thought they were listening when Torrey Pines and Carmel Valley told them what we wanted, “ said Dennis Ridz, of the Torrey Pines Planning Group. “Now they’re refusing to come to the community and meet with us.”
Fortunately for the residents, they have time to organize. Or do they?
“The project is not funded,” says CalTrans planner Arturo Jacobo. “It won’t be constructed before 2035 on our current planning timeline.”
Despite the project being 18 years away, CalTrans has finalized the environmental impact report, he says. What’s in the EIR has members of Carmel Valley and Torrey Pines planning groups angry.
The 1,000-page draft contains at least 80 changes in the plan from what residents say they were led to expect, Dee Rich said. The plan includes widening east and westbound SR 56 and north and southbound I-5. Now, the eastbound 56 sees about 41,000 cars a day, and planners estimate that it will increase to between 71,000 and 79,000 cars per day.
“They’re very major changes and they’ve never been presented to the public,” she said. Carmel Valley residents apparently didn’t see them either.
“The Carmel Valley Planning Group had the same reaction we did — they were shocked by the changes, especially since no one told us that things we worked on for five years were going to be changed,” Ridz explained. “I think the only way we can represent the community is to let the community ask questions and get straight answers at a public meeting.”
The series of meetings, beginning in 2008, started with 17 alternative plans. The alternatives were eventually whittled down to five, all agree. The planning groups submitted a 70-page report of their concerns with each of the five choices in 2012.
They say what ended up in the final environmental impact report is different from the five options they studied. So they called for CalTrans to come out and meet with the groups in September, and CalTrans refused, instead offering to meet at CalTrans offices in Old Town.
“We can even get questions to them in advance,” Ridz said.
Jacobo said that he and his colleagues had met with the planning groups dozens of times, starting in 2010. As time went on, the meetings became ‘unproductive,’ he said.
“We welcome the residents to come and meet with us,” he said. “I did say in writing we are available for a meeting but we want it to be a constructive meeting,” he said. “If they have environmental questions, I can have our experts here, if they have engineering questions, our engineers are here.”
On the west side of the I-5, planning group members say the plan will have the most impact on residents on Portofino Circle, just north of the 56.
There, CalTrans plans to build an offramp for southbound I5 that starts farther north than the existing ramp and is both longer and wider. The proposed ramp will bring traffic closer to homes on Portofino Circle and may trigger the need for sound walls.
“The diesel death zone is a thousand feet,” Ridz said, referring to the growing body of evidence that people who live or work near freeways have higher rates of asthma — sadly demonstrated in Barrio Logan and San Ysidro. “They’re putting the ramp behind a school with no mention of the kids’ health.”
Where to go from here no one knows
“We’re not trying to kill the project, there are impacts that CalTrans needs to recognize and consider,” Ridz said.
For Jacobo, a certain project fatigue has set in.
“We’ve been heavily involved with the community and we’ve had more meetings than are required,” he said. “I understand what it’s like to live in a community and worry about something like this. It’s a balancing act and we do our best, but some people are going to be unhappy.”