I-5 widening project spreads north into Carlsbad


A reduced speed limit of 55 mph will be enforced on Interstate 5 between Palomar Airport Road in Carlsbad and Highway 78 in Oceanside beginning Sunday, Oct. 17, as construction begins on four miles of new carpool and HOV lanes.

The $110 million construction project is an extension of the freeway work that has been underway for nearly two years in Encinitas and Solana Beach. The new lanes are part of the $887 million regional North Coast Corridor transportation improvement program, with projects that vary from environmental restoration to building a second set of coastal railroad tracks.

In addition to reduced speed limits, freeway travelers will see, for the first time in California, orange stripes along and between the traditional white stripes on the pavement.

“The idea is to get people’s attention that they are in a construction zone,” said Allan Kosup, North Coast Corridor Director for Caltrans District 11. “It’s a pilot program for the state.”

Two different patterns will be used for the highly visible orange stripes, one for northbound lanes and the other for southbound. Color-coded stripes have been used successfully in three other states — Wisconsin, Texas and Kentucky, according to Caltrans.

Speeds within the Carlsbad construction zone will be monitored and used with other information to determine whether the orange stripe system should be used elsewhere in California.

The two new HOV lanes, one in each direction, will be in the center of the freeway, on the driver’s far left, and will bring the total number of lanes to 10. The new lanes being completed in Solana Beach should be open by the end of 2021, and the segment beginning this month in Carlsbad should be open by the end of 2022, Kosup said.

Additional improvements that are part of the project included bike paths, sound walls and landscaping, and should be finished by the end of 2023.

Area elected officials joined Caltrans and SANDAG officials at Holiday Park in Carlsbad Tuesday afternoon, Oct. 12, to celebrate the new phase of work.

Carlsbad Mayor Matt Hall said the new lanes have been a long time coming and he recalled regional discussions of widening the freeway when he was first elected in 1994.

“Any of these projects takes time, energy and money,” Hall said. “Then you get to build the project.”

The North Coast Corridor project is a mixture of many construction efforts, including the freeway, railroad, public transit systems, bicycle and pedestrian paths, and environmental preservation.

New freeway lanes

“Transportation or mobility is like a big puzzle,” Hall said, and the multi-decade North Coast Corridor project is an effort to put the pieces together.

A design to build bike lanes, wider sidewalks, lighting and landscaping for the Chestnut Avenue underpass beneath Interstate 5 as part of the freeway widening project was approved by the Carlsbad City Council in October 2019. The Carlsbad portion of the work also includes the preservation of several acres of native habitat on the eastern end of Agua Hedionda Lagoon, which the freeway crosses.

Encinitas Mayor Catherine Blakespear also praised the work done in the region, which included the recently completed restoration of the San Elijo lagoon and wetlands at the border of Encinitas and Solana Beach.

“We are thrilled to see the progress heading north,” Blakespear said, adding that adding HOV lanes will take more cars off the road.

“If we can just take 5 percent of the cars off the road, we will be substantially reducing congestion,” she said.

State Assembly member Tasha Boerner Horvath also spoke at the news conference, saying the additional carpool lanes will help commuters in the short term and the environment in the long term.

“This will improve mobility for people who rely on the freeway for daily transportation,” Boerner Horvath said, and she praised the attention given to details such as using native plants for landscaping.

Work will take place from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, and intermittent single lane closures are expected. Concrete barriers will be placed along the inner shoulder of the construction zone beginning later this month.

Electronic speed feedback signs and other temporary signs will be placed at on-ramps and other locations to inform drivers they must reduce their maximum speed from 65 mph to 55 mph.

Intermittent traffic delays, along with noise, dust and heavy equipment in the work areas can be expected.