California Department of Transportation District 11 director Pedro Orso Delgado has provided his signature to an environmental Record of Decision which accepts the environmental documentation for the widening of Highway 76 between Melrose Drive in Oceanside and South Mission Road.
The March 5 signature will be followed by a 180-day review period but allows the environmental phase of the project to be considered complete.
“It’s a monumental achievement. This is something that’s been many, many years in the making,” said CalTrans project manager Mark Phelan. “It’s going to allow us to get to construction pretty quickly.”
The approval of the preferred alignment also allows for right-of-way acquisition. “The signature on that gives us the opportunity to go forward and start making first written offers on all properties in the corridor,” Phelan said.
“That’s the first major environmental milestone,” said CalTrans State Route 76 corridor director Allan Kosup. “We fully expect to be under construction by the end of the calendar year.”
The western phase of the Highway 76 widening, which covered the segment between Interstate 5 and Melrose Drive, was completed in 1999.
The middle segment between Melrose Drive and South Mission Road will widen approximately 5.8 miles of Highway 76 from two to four lanes.
The draft environmental impact report was released in October 2007 and addressed project alternatives and potential impacts while giving the public an opportunity to review and comment.
The preferred alternative, which has an estimated $244 million cost, was identified in the final environmental document released in November 2008.
The preferred alternative would impact the arroyo toad, California gnatcatcher, southwestern willow flycatcher, and Least Bell’s Vireo. The wetland impacts total 34.96 acres.
The preferred alignment would also require the acquisition of 163 acres and would affect seven commercial businesses, one non-profit business, and three homes.
The impacts would also improve that portion of Highway 76 from Level of Service F to Level of Service D or E, reducing travel time by approximately 20 minutes.
CalTrans predicts an average daily traffic volume of between 40,000 and 48,000 vehicles in 2011 and between 64,000 and 72,000 vehicles by 2030.
The current accident rate on Highway 76 between Melrose Drive and Olive Hill Road exceeds the statewide average for similar two-lane routes.
CalTrans is negotiating the purchase of a 280-acre upland parcel and a 110-acre wetland parcel to increase long-term species connectivity and restore habitat areas.
Roadway drainage systems, including bioswales (open channels lined with grass vegetation which filter and remove runoff pollutants) will mitigate erosion and stormwater pollution. Four wildlife or trail undercrossings have been proposed.
The land acquisition, including off-site mitigation, is also expected to help provide land for the future San Luis Rey River Park.
The improvements will also provide synchronized traffic signals to help traffic flow in the Bonsall Village area.
CalTrans has begun its environmental studies on the widening of Highway 76 between South Mission Road and Interstate 15.
A draft Environmental Impact Report is expected by the end of 2009, and CalTrans hopes to begin construction on that segment by early 2012.
The widening and realignment of State Route 76 between Interstate 15 and Couser Canyon Road is a private construction project utilizing a CalTrans permit. That work is targeted for completion by the end of 2009.
An agreement between CalTrans and the Pala tribe which would provide additional improvements to Highway 76 east of Interstate 15 is expected to be finalized during 2009, although environmental studies will precede the actual work.
CalTrans also plans to replace the bridge over Pala Creek, adding a median and shoulder lanes; construction on that project is planned to begin in late 2009 although environmental issues will result in the construction being performed in phases.
To comment on this story online, visit http://www.thevillagenews.com.