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SANDAG approves full funding for 76 to South Mission

The San Diego Association of Governments board voted without opposition October 24 to adjust the capital improvement budget for State Route 76 in order to ensure full funding for the middle section between Melrose Drive in Oceanside and South Mission Road.

“I think we’re making some major milestones,” said Allan Kosup, the California Department of Transportation corridor director for State Route 76. “These major milestones require that we make some budget adjustments.”

Expenditure costs for a road project include not only construction but also design, right-of-way acquisition and environmental costs. The environmental costs include both the environmental studies and any mitigation required to comply with national and state environmental legislation.

Earlier this month the Federal and state resource agencies issued a finding of no jeopardy for endangered species and the US Environmental Protection Agency indicated agreement with the draft environmental document. “Both of these are major milestones,” Kosup said.

The resource agency and EPA findings can be incorporated into the final environmental document, which is expected to be certified next month.

While the baseline estimate for the middle portion (the western section from Interstate 5 to Melrose Drive has been completed) was $158 million in 2004, additional scope and revised construction methods have increased the project estimate amount to $244 million.

The increase reflects higher commodity prices, more stringent water quality standards, revised grading methodology and extensive roadway protection adjacent to the San Luis Rey River.

The TransNet ordinance which authorized a half-cent sales tax extension for funding of various roads in San Diego County, including the widening of State Route 76, included a policy of mitigation to create a net environmental benefit on State Route 76 between Melrose Drive and Interstate 15, State Route 67 between Lakeside and Ramona and State Route 94 between Rancho San Diego and Jamul.

Enhancement includes improving connectivity for wildlife species, improving water quality and acquisition of habitat.

The Highway 76 project is the first of those three to have a specific plan in place.

The enhancement includes wildlife crossings underneath the widened road as well as fencing to keep wildlife away from the roadways, and enhanced revegetation is also a part of the net environmental benefit plan for Highway 76.

The design for the middle project includes three wildlife locations.

CalTrans has been working with the County of San Diego on the future San Luis Rey River Park.

No specific land in the river park plan has been designated for a specific purpose, allowing CalTrans to use potential portions of the land for the future widening of State Route 76.

The park concept also includes the possibility that CalTrans will purchase land as mitigation for the Highway 76 improvements, and so far 270 acres have been acquired as part of the mitigation effort.

The planned work also includes the creation of bioswales to address water quality so that runoff is not carried into the San Luis Rey River.

The previously approved $483 budget for the Highway 76 widening included $158 for the middle portion between Melrose and Mission, $242 million for the eastern segment from Mission to Interstate 15 and $83 million for environmental mitigation and enhancement. The revised budget takes $74 million from the eastern segment’s appropriations and $12 million from the environmental mitigation amount.

“It allows us to fully program the middle and spend some more time looking at the east before we come forward with exactly what we need,” Kosup said.

The final design and right-of-way acquisition phases for the middle segment are expected to be complete next year, and construction is expected to begin in early 2010.

While some finalization work may be required, the widened portion of Highway 76 between Melrose and Mission is expected to be opened to traffic in 2012.

The middle segment will utilize a process called design sequencing, in which bids will be advertised while the design work is approximately 70 percent complete.

That will allow for some of the grading work to be performed while the design is being finalized.

“We’d like to try to move it up to take advantage of the current bidding climate,” Kosup said.

Funding for the eastern portion of the Highway 76 widening, including interchange ramps for Highway 76 and Interstate 15, may also be provided by developer contributions, county Transportation Impact Fee revenue, and casino expansion mitigation agreements.

“We believe that we can bring additional revenue sources to the corridor,” Kosup said.

The draft environmental document for the eastern portion is scheduled to be released in early 2009. Construction is slated to begin in 2011, and the widened portion from Mission Road to Interstate 15 is scheduled to be opened to traffic in 2013.

“We’re excited to get underway,” Kosup said.

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