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SR76 topic of local meeting - Public forum set for Sept. 16 at Bonsall Community Center

A California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) representative and a spokesman for the 76 Action Group, a grassroots organization of citizens concerned about the realignment design of State Route 76 from South Mission to Interstate 15, each made a presentation at the August 19 meeting of the Fallbrook Revitalization Council.

With the release of the Draft Environmental Impact Statement/Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIS/DEIR) regarding the third phase of the SR76 improvement project expected to be released in the next two weeks, Caltrans Project 76 manager Mark Phelan made certain assurances to those in attendance during his presentation, but steadfastly maintained he wasn’t certain which of two final route alternatives, the “Existing” or the “South” would be selected by the state.

“There is not a preference to the routes,” said Phelan. “Each alternative carries different costs, and has different balances, but one does not take precedent over the other.”

Phelan did contend that the new design would carry certain benefits, regardless of which alternative is selected for construction.

“We are going to improve travel time and safety,” Phelan said. “We are also going to make it more environmentally appealing by using colored guard rail and coloring the concrete barriers. SANDAG (San Diego Association of Governments) has committed to more than the normal <amount of> mitigation for environmental purposes on this project.”

The presentation by Monty Voigt, spokesman for the 76 Action Group, focused on his group’s opinion that the “South” route alternative would be the better choice for safety in the event residents of the Fallbrook area suffer another firestorm of the magnitude of the 2007 Rice Fire requiring evacuation.

“The southern alternative would provide an uninterrupted thoroughfare,” said Voigt. “It would also keep the existing road as a frontage road.” Voigt emphasized that with the southern alternative more highway lanes would exist for east-west travel in the San Luis Rey River Valley from Interstate 15 to South Mission Road.

“We are supporting the southern route because it’s a safer route,” said Voigt. “Over 4,000 residents have signed petitions supporting that opinion.”

Phelan said his office has received a good amount of correspondence on the 76 project.

“We’ve gotten a lot of letters and input from the community,” said Phelan. “We’ve also addressed fire and emergency access in far greater detail due to the input we have received from community members.”

Voigt praised Caltrans efforts to provide alternatives on the design of the highway.

“I do thank Caltrans; they’ve been very cooperative with us,” he said. “Caltrans is trying to do a good job.”

Phelan explained that Caltrans has addressed synergy with the future San Luis Rey River Park in both alternatives.

“We want the roadway, whichever alternative is chosen, to support the park,” he said.

Voigt agreed in theory, but felt if the southern alternative was selected, the existing roadway would be easier to use as the access for park entrance.

“The southern route would provide for a greater park corridor and the frontage road could provide for a nice entry into it,” said Voigt.

Phelan also told those in attendance that the entire SR76 project, from Oceanside to Interstate 15, has a current $453 million budget.

The second phase of the project, currently under construction from Melrose to South Mission, accounts for $172 million and the estimate for the final (third) section from South Mission to Interstate 15 has $201 million allocated at this time.

Phelan said over the next four to five months, travelers will see a dramatic change in the middle section of SR76.

“It will be during that time that we will be moving traffic onto parts of the new roadway,” he said.

The most visible part of the construction, Phelan said, is the 1,700-foot-long bridge that is being erected over the river.

“They are installing nine new columns to support the bridge,” said Phelan.

In the planning process, Phelan said Caltrans has accounted for developments in the Interstate 15 corridor such as Campus Park and Meadowood.

Voigt said a short time later that he wondered why no mention was made of casino traffic volume in the area, or what future projects are for that.

“He didn’t say what [Caltrans] was factoring in on that,” said Voigt.

Voigt also expressed concern that in the plans he has seen regarding the existing roadway alternative, multiple unprotected intersections exist.

“That plan creates three “right in/right out” unprotected intersections and adds three full access unprotected intersections,” said Voigt.

A point of contention came up near the end of Voigt’s presentation, when using a Power Point format he generalized that if the southern alternative was built, six lanes of highway would exist for evacuation travel/safety purposes.

Don McKinney, representing Congressman Darrell Issa’s office, objected to Voigt’s statement on the screen and called it “somewhat misleading.”

McKinney said what Voigt should have said was, “[Residents and travelers] would have the four additional lanes to the south to take pressure off the two lanes (existing) to allow better access.” He appeared concerned people would misinterpret that the southern route, if selected, would be a new six-lane highway.

“My point was very narrow and specific; I just felt by being clear it might add value to [the 76 Action Group’s] position,” said McKinney. “I personally, and office, have no issues about the alignment; we feel it is up to the appropriate people to make that decision. It is a vital roadway and needs to get done.”

The final environmental approval for the selected route is expected to be in fall 2011, Phelan said, followed by any necessary right-of-way acquisitions, with construction to begin in late 2012. He also said that the first portion to undergo construction in the third phase of the project will be the SR76/Interstate 15 interchange as that design is consistent with both alternatives. Completion for the third and final phase of the project is estimated to be in 2015, Phelan said.

Phelan said that a public forum has been scheduled for Thursday, Sept. 16, from 5 to 8 p.m. at the Bonsall Community Center for area residents to ask questions and provide input on the DEIS/DEIR and the two route alternatives. He said Caltrans plans on having 20 representatives at the forum to answer questions and discuss the project with residents.

“We are looking for specific detailed input at that meeting,” said Phelan.

He also said individuals can visit http://www.keepsandiegomoving.com to request that a CD with the reports on it be sent to them for review prior to the meeting.

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