Improving the five miles of State Route 76 from Mission Road to Interstate 15 has many challenges. Among these are community safety, friendly east/west access for current roads, environmental issues and future traffic demands.
How do the two CalTrans options, existing route alternative and southern route alternative, meet these objectives?
Future traffic demands
CalTrans has completed the six-lane SR-76 improvement from I-5 to Melrose (Home Depot) and are planning six lanes to Mission Road.
The Mission to I-15 section is planned for a maximum of four lanes. Why four lanes? CalTrans assumes 40 percent of the traffic will go north on Mission and 60 percent will continue on to I-15.
What happens when another 15,000 to 20,000 trips per day are added by developments east of I-15 and then add more trips if a Chargers stadium is built in Escondido? The result would be no change from the current situation: bad.
CalTrans would need another SR-76 improvement project to accommodate the increased traffic load. Clearly, a four-lane right of way in the existing northern alternative is unrealistic and a six-lane right of way southern alternative is a better choice.
Both the existing and southern route alternatives have environmental issues but the existing northern alternative probably has fewer environmental issues with a four-lane right a way.
The southern alternative may require one or two bridges over the San Luis Rey River. Is that bad? No, it just costs a little more. How much more depends on the bridge type but cost is only a small part of the CalTrans selection criteria.
The southern route alternative impacts fewer residents and improves air quality due to a smooth traffic flow with no friction points between I-15 and Mission.
The northern alternative is projecting a minimum of three stop lights, which increases noise and emission pollution. Bad for all creatures.
East/west access and safety
The northern existing route alternative eliminates the existing Pala Road and creates a divided highway from Mission to the I-15 with three signalized intersections.
What does this mean? Westbound traffic north of SR-76 will have no problem turning west but eastbound traffic must go to a signal and make a u-turn.
No big deal; this is a minor inconvenience – unless there is an emergency situation where time makes the difference between life and death!
Consider the reverse problem. Increased response time for emergency responders will impact thousands of people between I-15 and Mission.
What happens when Fallbrook experiences a firestorm and we need to evacuate as we did in 2007? A limited access highway is not great evacuation route.
The solution to all these problems is simple. Keep Pala Road a local road, locate the County Regional Park adjacent to Pala Road and move SR-76 further south.
Those desiring to keep Pala a local road should write to: Ms. Debbie Soifer, California Dept. of Transportation, 4050 Taylor St., MS 242, San Diego, CA 92110, and/or Mr. Mark Phelan, SR76 Project Manager, California Department of Transportation, 4050 Taylor St., San Diego, CA 92110.