Groundbreaking took place Wednesday for a $41 million project that transportation planners hope will be the first step in clearing up a bottleneck on state Route 78 that has become the worst in San Diego County.
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The main part of the project is to replace the Nordahl Road overpass, which will allow the freeway to be widened near the San Marcos-Escondido city limits, said Hayden Manning of Caltrans. There will also be an added auxiliary lane leading to Nordahl Road, he said.
Having more room under the over-crossing could result in future projects to add lanes, Manning said.
"Every morning, it's jam packed. It's unbelievable," said Murrieta resident Craig Savage.
"Lunchtime, it's really hard. It's too hard for us to get here, so we take the Sprinter," Ernesting Velazquez told 10News.
A study by the traffic information firm INRIX found that eastbound SR-78 through San Marcos has supplanted Interstate 15 and the Interstate 5-805 merge for having the worst freeway congestion in the county. Speeds are less than half of normal for an average of 21 hours per week, the company found.
"With the new and expanded Palomar Medical Center West set to open this summer in Escondido, relieving congestion on SR-78 is more important than ever," said Encinitas Mayor Jerome Stocks, chairman of the San Diego Association of Governments.
"Once the freeway improvements are complete, travelers will notice a big difference in the traffic flow," he said.
"This is the first step in what'll be additional improvements to the 78, including HOV lanes, probably toll lanes and additional auxiliary lanes," said Bill Figge of Caltrans.
SANDAG, which administers a regional half-cent sales tax used for transportation, contributed $15.5 million for the project and Caltrans chipped in $14.1 million. The city of San Marcos added $6.75 million and city of Escondido contributed $4.75 million.
"This project is extremely important to North County not only because of the large number of people who will benefit from less traffic congestion, but also for the air quality and safety improvements and overall economic benefits," Escondido Mayor Sam Abed said.
"The project also will improve traffic flow between Escondido and our neighboring city, San Marcos, and prepare for future Express Lanes on SR-78 to improve access to the nearby I-15," he said.
Larry Boyle of San Marcos said, "I expect the improvements to be worthwhile, but they'll be a pain in the neck probably while they're going on."
The bridge work is expected to be completed this fall and the eastbound auxiliary lane is due to open early next year.
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