El Camino Real widening, new bridge now targeting 2023 start date

A rendering of the widened El Camino Real.
(Screenshot by Karen Billing of rendering)

By this time next year, construction is expected to begin on the long-awaited widening of El Camino Real and accompanying new bridge.

The existing roadway has no bike lanes or sidewalks and the bridge has been deemed functionally obsolete and structurally deficient, according to city project manager Alejandra Gonzalez during an update at the Jan. 27 Carmel Valley Community Planning Board meeting. With the upgrade, the narrow and aging bridge will be replaced with a new 354-feet-long and 76-feet-wide bridge with both a bike lane and protected sidewalk. Both the road and bridge will be elevated out of the 100-year floodplain and El Camino Real will be widened from two to four lanes from San Dieguito Road to Via De La Valle.

In the coming year, the city plans to secure property rights across nine private parcels, obtain permits and construction funding and start the three-year construction process in January 2023. The new roadway would then open in 2026.

Construction is estimated at $49.1 million, of which approximately $37.5 million is eligible for federal Highway Bridge Program grants.

The way El Camino Real traverses through the river valley will look very different when the project is completed. In addition to being widened, the roadway will shift to the east with the intersection of Via De La Valle moved to align with De La Valle Place (in between the two Polo Plaza buildings) with a new traffic signal.

The widened road will feature a stamped concrete median, turn pockets, six feet sidewalks, landscaped parkways and bike lanes. A raised undercrossing under the new bridge will accommodate access to the Coast to Crest Trail, linking four miles of coastal trails with 31 miles of inland trails, including the recently upgraded 1.3-mile portion that runs through the Surf Sports Park.

New traffic signals at the entrances to the Horse Park and the Surf Sports Park properties aim to improve access.

Currently Surf Sports Park does not use the entrance on El Camino Real as it is owned by the 22nd Agricultural District. All traffic is directed to the separate entrance on Via De La Valle.

At the meeting, board member Michelle Strauss questioned how the re-alignment will impact the Surf Sports fields and parking on the west end of the site.

“I’m sure everyone on this board has seen what the traffic is like when tournaments happen at that field,” Strauss said. “I live at that field because I have two competitive soccer players so I’m just wondering how this will impact that situation.”

Gonzalez said the road will be widening onto the Surf property and taking out a large portion of the current parking area. She said the city has coordinated with Surf and they are working on what the configuration will be like when project goes through.

“The intent is for it to help with the traffic that is currently happening there,” Gonzalez said. “Now there is no turn lane and only two lanes in each direction so everything backs up. With the project, you’d have two lanes in each direction with long turn pockets to accommodate queues turning into either the fields or Horse Park.”

During the construction, temporary trestle bridges will be built to provide 30-foot- wide platforms across the width of the river in order to construct the new bridge. The existing bridge will be removed after the new bridge is constructed.

One resident was concerned about whether wildlife will be able to get across the river valley during construction.

The project’s Environmental Impact Report acknowledged that the San Dieguito River functions as a wildlife corridor for federally and state endangered species, like the least Bell’s vireo, as well as terrestrial species such as coyote, striped skunk, opossum and raccoon.

Multiple openings on the construction site will provide avenues for local wildlife migration and per the EIR, the function of the wildlife corridor will not be compromised during the three-year construction period.