Also serving the communities of De Luz, Rainbow, Camp Pendleton, Pala and Pauma

Caltrans says Draft EIS/EIR for SR76 delayed again

The release of the Draft Environmental Impact Statement/Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIS/DEIR) being prepared for the State Route 76 highway improvement project segment from South Mission Road to Interstate 15 has now been delayed to between August 20 and 27, said a representative of the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans).

“It’s a government process, but we are now in the final stages and have been going back and forth with headquarters regarding questions and answers,” said SR76 project manager Mark Phelan in a phone interview Monday. Agencies involved in the DEIS/DEIR include US Fish & Wildlife, Calif. Dept. of Fish & Game, Army Corps of Engineers, Caltrans, the Federal Highway Administration, and the Environmental Protection Agency.

“We hope to have blessing by Friday; then we will need a week to ten days to make copies of this 800-page document.”

When final approval is issued, the document will be filed in a federal register and filings are only done on Fridays, Phelan said. After it is filed, the clock will begin ticking on a 45-day public comment period.

A public meeting is currently being planned to offer area residents an opportunity to ask questions and voice concerns over the information provided within the report.

“We try to give the public between three and four weeks to review the information before we have the meeting,” said Phelan.

Phelan said the meeting will most likely be set for mid-September at the Bonsall Community Center and provide both information and exhibits.

“We think it’s the most central location for users along the highway corridor,” he said, adding that the meeting would be held from 5 to 8 p.m.

The meeting will be designed open-house style, Phelan said.

“People will be able to come and go during those hours,” he said. “We find that we can respond to a lot more people by doing it in that format.”

Based on opinions expressed by local residents, the item of the single greatest interest is expected to be whether a southern or northern alignment is suggested for the roadway.

In a previous interview, Phelan said the two alternatives were “being studied to an equal level of depth in every study that is performed.” It has also been disclosed that the southern route would carry a much higher cost.

“Improvement of the existing northern route would cost between $200-225 million; the southern alternative would be $300-325 million,” said Phelan.

Phelan said the most time-consuming part of the process is the biology study on the affected area.

“That is by far the largest, most time-consuming part of [the study],” he said. “And biology studies continue up until the start of construction and on.”

Phelan said the segment of SR76 currently under construction from Melrose Drive to Bonsall has a full time biologist on site.

“They do their best in the <advance> study to understand all the environmental components, but San Luis Rey is an active river valley and things can change,” said Phelan.

The construction process currently underway has caused some minor impacts to traffic, but Phelan said that was “not unexpected.”

“I travel SR76 a lot for both work and personal; [construction] makes it inconvenient, but not overly so,” he said of his experiences.

Phelan said one of the ways construction crews have eased the traffic problems is to build temporary (non-public traffic) bridges to haul materials across from one side of the roadway to the other.

“During the day they cut away the dirt from certain areas and at night they move it across to the other side of the road,” he said.

There were two incidences where workers had to stop traffic for a full 15 minutes, he explained.

“They had to do blasting on two occasions and they had to stop traffic for safety reasons,” said Phelan. “And blasting has to be done during daytime hours.”

Phelan said he thinks motorists have been pretty understanding of the construction process and what impact it is had.

“<Area residents> are used to driving on a narrow road with windy curves, so we haven’t had a lot of people slam on their brakes like when there is freeway construction going on.”

When information is made available to the public, travel appears to go smoother, he said.

“Our biggest challenge on 76 is getting the word out to the community – if you get the word out, people can adjust,” said Phelan.

Phelan said notices will be placed in area newspapers, including the Village News, as soon as details are confirmed pertaining to the public meeting regarding the DEIS/DEIR.

“Residents can also sign up to be on our electronic mailing list at http://www.keepsandiegomoving.com,” he said.

Phelan said once the preferred route for the highway has been determined, it will take “about a year to develop the final design and engineering plan.

To comment on this story online, visit http://www.thevillagenews.com.

 

Reader Comments(0)