Ramp could relieve fair traffic, but timing critical, say Del Mar city staff


By Claire Harlin

Staff Writer

The Del Mar City Council could make plans within the next six months for a direct-access ramp from Interstate 5 to the fairgrounds, dependent on securing funding for a traffic and environmental analysis.

Such a project would coincide with the already planned widening of I-5 to eight general purpose lanes, plus four managed lanes to accommodate the projected increase in traffic in the North Coast Corridor.

“The time crunch is caused by the planning window for the I-5 expansion, which is about six months long,” said Del Mar Deputy Mayor Carl Hilliard.

Alan Kosup, the California Department of Transportation’s I-5 Corridor director, said the widening will involve removing the existing undercrossing at Via de la Valle and replacing it with another bridge.

“It’s a bottleneck right now and it has reached its economic life,” Kosup said. “Nothing in this business is for sure, but that’s the current plan.”

The four managed lanes added to I-5 would cater to buses, carpoolers and FasTrak pre-paid toll customers. Kosup said those lanes would be elevated over the other I-5 lanes and feed directly into Jimmy Durante Boulevard. Similar to the I-15 Express Lanes, which are scheduled to be completed in 2012, the middle lanes on I-5 will run all the way to Oceanside, with elevated access to the outside lanes at key points along the way.

Now is the opportunity to look into long-term development, said Kosup, and the possibility of a direct-access ramp depends very much on the long-term plan of the Del Mar Fairgrounds.

“It goes hand in hand with what’s going on at the fair, and it’s a partnership between all the stakeholders,” said Kosup. “Via de la Valle is an odd situation because it’s actually in the City of San Diego. But Del Mar is directly to west, and the city that is most impacted by traffic would be Del Mar.”

In addition to the freeway backup caused by events at the Fairgrounds, Hilliard said the Flower Hill shopping center has expansion plans under way that will increase traffic on Via de la Valle.

“It is clear that Via de la Valle cannot efficiently handle this increased traffic load,” he said. “An obvious solution is to add a direct access ramp that will deliver traffic from the I-5 directly into the fairgrounds parking lot. Similar ramps are used at Disneyland and other high-volume venues.”

Craig Adams, executive director of the San Dieguito River Valley Conservancy, said he doubts an adequate environmental analysis of the area can be done in six months. Building upward any higher than the structure that’s currently there would have a sizeable impact, visually speaking and also in terms increased shading and more noise.

“The more cars there are, the more noise and the more pollution,” he said. “We need an analysis to draw any conclusions, but [building a direct-access ramp] would appear to have substantial additional impact on the lagoon, which we would like to have a rural feeling and character.”