Four miles of new carpool lanes opening on I-5 in North County

Caltrans and SANDAG celebrated the opening of four additional miles of Interstate 5 carpool lanes Tuesday morning.
(John Gastaldo/For The San Diego Union-Tribune)

HOV lanes now finished from La Jolla to Route 78 in Oceanside, with plans to continue to Route 76


A new southbound, four-mile carpool lane on Interstate 5 between state Route 78 in Oceanside and Palomar Airport Road in Carlsbad opens Wednesday morning, with the matching northbound lane to debut in two more weeks.

The new lanes are another segment in what will eventually be 27 miles of HOV lanes on I-5 extending from the Route 52 intersection at La Jolla to the freeway’s link with state Route 76 at the northern end of Oceanside near the Camp Pendleton border.

“It’s providing new options for the traveling public,” said Allan Kosup, North County Corridor director for Caltrans.

Carpool lane users save time, reduce traffic congestion, and help meet the state’s environmental goals for lowering greenhouse gas emissions.

The new lanes are part of the $900 million North Coast Corridor project that includes double-tracking the coastal railway, improving railroad and freeway bridges, expanding the network of pedestrian and bicycle trails, and environmental mitigation projects such as the restoration of the San Elijo Lagoon.

The North Coast Corridor project is an example of planning for a future “that is not car-centric, but is a collaboration of transportation options,” said Gustavo Dallarda, Caltrans District 11 director.

Drivers will be able to save 10 to 15 minutes a trip by using the carpool lanes during peak commuter hours, planners have estimated.

Any vehicle with two or more occupants can use the lanes. Also, van pools, buses, motorcycles and qualifying clean-air vehicles. A single person driving alone without the HOV access sticker can be fined $490 for one offense or more for repeat offenses.

Caltrans and the San Diego Association of Governments completed the first segment of I-5 carpool lanes from La Jolla to just north of the Interstate 805 interchange several years ago.

Construction of the Palomar Airport Road to Route 78 segment began in October 2021. It included, for the first time in California, the temporary painting of orange stripes on the pavement to warn drivers to be cautious during the work.

So far no funding has been allocated to build the final three miles between routes 78 and 76, and no construction schedule has been announced.

Transportation officials and area elected officials celebrated the completion of the newest lanes Tuesday morning with speeches and a ribbon-cutting in the park-and-ride lot just off the I-5 at Route 78.

Solana Beach Mayor Lesa Heebner, Carlsbad Mayor Keith Blackburn and state Assembly member Laurie Davies, R-Laguna Niguel, were present and spoke briefly, as did aides representing U.S. Rep. Mike Levin, D-San Juan Capistrano, state Sen. Catherine Blakespear, D-Encinitas, and state Assembly member Tasha Boerner, D-Encinitas.

Heebner, a member of the SANDAG board, called the lanes “a huge win for North County and our entire region,” and said, “This collaborative effort stands as a model for future projects.”

As the area’s regional planning agency, SANDAG has worked with Caltrans, the California Coastal Commission and other federal, state and local agencies to plan, fund and construct the projects.

One of the most heavily traveled freeways in California, I-5 is used by almost 300,000 people a day at the Interstate 805 interchange in San Diego. Traffic declines in North County to about 200,000 people daily at the Route 78 interchange.