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Two alternatives presented for SR76 widening from S. Mission to Interstate 15

At a public meeting held Wednesday, October 22, at the Bonsall Community Center, two alternatives were presented for the widening and realignment of a five-mile stretch of SR76 from South Mission Road to Interstate 15 to relieve traffic congestion.

CalTrans and SANDAG said the intent is to develop SR76 into a four-lane conventional highway and widen and improve the interchange at SR76 and I-15.

Two different plans are being considered to accomplish this: one is to widen SR76 along the existing route; the other involves moving the highway route to the south side of the San Luis Rey River.

SR76 project manager Mark Phelan said that after trying to figure out which alternative will have the lesser impact on the environment, CalTrans will work on agreements with the Environmental Protection Agency, the Fish and Wildlife Service, Army Corps of Engineers and the California Department of Fish and Game, as they all have jurisdiction in the area and need to provide clearance before developing drafts are released.

Both alternatives were developed in response to traffic concerns, as commuters are currently making 25,000 daily trips on SR76 and the roads need to accommodate estimated traffic increases pertaining to new developments.

The estimated budget for the project is $240 million and is to be funded by the Trans Net Sales Tax measure approved by San Diego County voters in November 2004, gas tax revenues from the State Transportation Improvements Program (STIP) and federal and local funds.

In 2007, CalTrans began initial studies to determine the extent and severity of potential impacts to the area’s environmental resources and began to develop ways to address potential concerns brought up by the community and public agencies.

Possible impacts to existing and planned residential area include increased noise; neighborhood disruption and change of community character; potential business displacements; loss of biological resources including riparian habitat, wetlands and endangered species; impacts to archaeological sites; floodplain encroachment; the taking of agricultural land; the use of public parks, recreation areas, wildlife and waterfowl refuges and historic sites eligible for the National Register of Historic Places; and visual impacts due to cuts, fills and structures.

SR76 is reported to be culturally diverse with Native American sites, has four endangered species in the river and has a history of sand mining, according to Phelan, who said CalTrans will do its best to recover and replenish some of the wetlands while building a better road without impacting a large amount of the area.

Phelan said there hasn’t been a large opposition to either of the plans, though most seem to prefer that CalTrans simply just widen the existing road.

“There is no large-scale opposition against improving the road, appeasing traffic congestion and straightening out the curves,” said Phelan. “People who live up here understand how environmentally sensitive this whole corridor is and the challenges it creates for us.”

However, SR76 and I-5 corridor director Allan Kosup said a large challenge is presented in how to work on the road without greatly disrupting traffic.

“We would try to do work at night and set up detours,” said Kosup. “Either way, we will keep traffic moving the way it is today.”

The improvement of the roadway from South Mission to Interstate 15 is the third and final step in the SR76 improvement project. The first stage of improvements were done from Interstate 5 to Melrose Drive; the second stage, currently underway, runs from Melrose Drive to South Mission Road.

Construction on the third phase of the project is scheduled for 2011 and is estimated to be finished by 2012.

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