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Congestion Relief on the Way for I-15 Commuters

New business parks in the vicinity of Poway and Rancho Bernardo will likely add to the commuter crush on Interstate 15.

It’s a grind employees of BAE Systems in Rancho Bernardo know well. Employees at the international defense contractor say they experience congestion, whether they head north or south when it’s time to go home.

Some relief may be on the way. The California Department of Transportation plans to build four lanes down the freeway median, opening the first segment of the project in 2007.

That initial 8 miles will be in the vicinity of Poway and Rancho Bernardo, running from the state Route 56 junction (Ted Williams Parkway) to Centre City Parkway at Lake Hodges.

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The lanes will be reversible to accommodate the dominant flow of traffic, using a median barrier similar to that on the San Diego-Coronado Bridge.

Ultimately, the $1 billion project will stretch 20 miles, from downtown Escondido to Miramar Marine Corps Air Station. A Caltrans spokesman said the whole project could be done by 2012, depending on funding.

Express bus service to five points along Interstate 15 is also part of the plan.

Local contractors set to build the freeway addition include FCI Constructors, Inc., which has its Southern division office in Vista, and San Diego-based Coffman Specialties Inc.

Plenty of people will be on hand to watch the construction’s progress.

As of 2004, the heaviest traffic on I-15 was in the middle of MCAS Miramar, where it splits off to state Route 163. Caltrans statistics show that part of the freeway carried an average of 294,000 vehicles per day. (The Caltrans figures do not differentiate between northbound and southbound traffic, and cover 24 hours.)

Daily traffic counts hover above 200,000 cars per day in the stretches to the north, declining to 185,000 by the time the freeway crosses Lake Hodges.

North of Escondido to the Riverside County line, Interstate 15 carries 124,000 to 146,000 vehicles per day, on average.

Congestion is something you encounter no matter which direction you head on I-15, according to BAE employees.

Conventional wisdom holds that traffic flows south in the morning, from the lower-priced housing in Riverside County to the employment centers of San Diego.

Program manager Jim Dawson and contract specialist Debra Dawson go in the opposite direction. The husband and wife live near La Jolla, so their reverse commute involves at least a portion of I-15 that skirts Poway.

Stop-and-go traffic is not uncommon, said the Dawsons, who added that the homeward drive Thursdays and Fridays can be bad. Jim Dawson said he makes it a point to check the Caltrans map on the Web to gauge traffic congestion.

Jim Guenther, who works in BAE’s security department, lives in Murrieta. He and nine other employees catch a van to work every morning. The 36-mile drive to Rancho Bernardo takes 50 minutes, he said.

Traffic along that stretch of Interstate 15 has gotten heavier in recent years, he said, adding that the driver abandons southbound 15 when there’s an alternative, using Centre City Parkway through Escondido.

The trip north at the end of the day is quicker, he said, but the group still encounters stop-and-go traffic.

After spending years driving himself, Guenther said he’s glad to use the van pool. Not only does he save on gas and insurance, he can nap as he commutes.

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