San Diego moving forward with long-awaited El Camino Real widening


San Diego officials are moving ahead with design work for the long-awaited half-mile widening of El Camino Real between Via de la Valle and San Dieguito Road, just east of Del Mar and north of Carmel Valley.

The goal of the $38 million project is to alleviate traffic congestion and encourage more bicycling and walking by adding striped bike lanes and sidewalks to the busy road in both directions.

El Camino Real will be widened from one lane in both directions to two lanes in both directions. The project also will raise the elevation of the road and move it the east.

It also will replace an existing bridge with a new version farther to the east that will be wider, seismically safe and less prone to flooding. Approximately 1,000 feet of Via de la Valle will be widened to accommodate new turn lanes onto El Camino Real and some drainage improvements.

It is scheduled to break ground in spring 2023. Construction is expected to take three years and conclude in summer 2026.

Nearly $21 million of the $38 million cost will come from federal grants, with the rest coming from developer contributions and other local funds.

City officials began studying the project in 2006, but potential environmental impacts and approvals needed from many government agencies have delayed it.

It will continue to be a lengthy process, officials predicted before the City Council unanimously approved a $2.4 million contract with Rick Engineering for the design work on May 14.

Design work is scheduled to take three years and conclude in fall 2022. Officials said the unusually lengthy process is partly because multiple approvals will be needed from the state Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration.

Approximately 30 percent of the design work was completed as part of an Environmental Impact Report for the project, which the council approved in 2017. Officials said most of the work already done is conceptual and subsequent work will be the more specific nuts and bolts of the design.

James Nagelvoort, the city’s public works director, said officials will ensure that the project is not constructed simultaneously with a nearby widening of Via de La Valle that Lennar Homes must complete as part of a housing project it built.

Another complication connected to the El Camino Real widening are polo fields owned by the city and frequently used for highly-attended soccer tournaments.

The widening will cut through the parking lot of the polo fields, making the area potentially more congested during weekend tournaments. City officials said the managers of the polo fields are aware of the potential conflict, which has been built into their lease with the city.

The area gets more congested during the summer because of the nearby San Diego County Fair and thoroughbred racing in Del Mar.

During construction, the existing bridge will remain in use until the new bridge is complete and ready for traffic, officials said.

The old bridge is designated for destruction, but some community leaders have suggested it could remain in place as an equestrian bridge for users of the San Dieguito River Park.

— David Garrick is a reporter for The San Diego Union-Tribune