Calif. Coastal Commission approves plan to expand 27-mile stretch of Interstate 5

SAN DIEGO - A wide-ranging, 40-year plan to handle the growing transportation needs along the North County coastline was unanimously approved Wednesday by the California Coastal Commission.

The plan, developed by Caltrans and the San Diego Association of Governments, outlines a series of rail, highway, public transit, bicycle, pedestrian and coastal resource improvements spanning 27 miles between La Jolla and Oceanside.

Approval came despite opposition from environmental groups that contend it places too much emphasis on widening Interstate 5 and not enough on alternative modes of transportation. They also claimed that SANDAG relied on obsolete data in an environmental impact report issued four years ago.

However, commission staff noted the plan includes a bikeway along the length of the shoreline, seven new miles of hiking trails and environmental mitigation projects designed to restore or enhance coastal resources.

The widening of I-5 will include four new express lanes, according to a staff report.

Commissioner Dayna Bochco, who grew up in San Diego, conceded that area residents haven't embraced the idea of giving up their cars in the face of climate change. She said traffic on the I-5 corridor resembles the congestion she sees in Los Angeles when she drives south for visits.

"We have to educate the public -- we have to get them car-broken," Bochco said.

She called the plan "a good start," however.

Solana Beach Jack Curtin said, "It's about time," when he learned about the decision to move forward with the $6.5 billion package to make improvements.

Curtin called the daily traffic jams along the interstate "horrible," and he said he hopes Caltrans wastes no time getting the construction project underway.

Nina Siebert of Encinitas told 10News her husband gets stuck commuting to and from work in La Jolla every day. She said it'll be nice to have him get home on time, and she believes dealing with an orange cone zone will be worth it in the long run.

Sen. Joel Anderson, R-Alpine, Sen. Ben Hueso, D-San Diego, and Assemblyman Rocky Chavez, R-Oceanside, submitted letters of support. Local mayors, UC San Diego, Cal State San Marcos, Legoland California and the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce also backed the plan.

10News spoke to several drivers as they filled their gas tanks at the Valero station on Birmingham Drive. All but one were delighted to hear that Caltrans had been given the go-ahead to widen I-5.

Patrick Crais had a different perspective, saying, "I'd like it if we would just stick with trains and bicycle pathways."

Crais recalled how last weekend he and several friends took the train from Encinitas to downtown San Diego, and then rode their bicycles to Coronado. He said, "No cars were involved."

"I would like it if they would just focus on the whole concept of mass transit," said Crais, referring to the compromise plan that adds bike trails and a second set of railroad tracks, in addition to widening the freeway.

Crais criticized the way Southern Californians rely of cars to get where they need to go.

"We love our cars; we're Americans. In America, we ride and look at the entire country from our window. Outside of America, people look at it without a window between each other," he said.

Construction on the I-5 corridor should begin in late 2015.

The commissioners made separate unanimous votes on the consistency of the plan with commission policies, a public works plans, and local plans specific to Carlsbad, Encinitas, Oceanside and San Diego.

The commission is meeting at the Catamaran Resort through Friday.

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