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President Bush Puts I-5 Project on “Fast Track”

President Bush Puts I-5 Project on ‘Fast Track’

Transportation: Construction Of More Lanes, Operational Improvements Not Set to Get Under Way Until 2009

BY LISA KOVACH

Each weekday afternoon, San Diego’s traffic reporters broadcast an all-too-familiar message to commuters traveling on Interstate 5 between Oceanside and La Jolla. Gridlock, gridlock, gridlock.

The 26-mile stretch from Oceanside to La Jolla is routinely paralyzed with more than 224,000 commuters traveling north and south during a typical day, according to the California Department of Transportation.

Now there is a chance that traffic reporters may be relaying a better message to those I-5 commuters stuck in traffic.

On Aug. 19, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Norman Y. Mineta announced that the I-5 North Coast Project, stretching from Vandergrift Boulevard in Oceanside to La Jolla Village Drive in La Jolla, has been added to President Bush’s transportation priority project list under the president’s Environmental Stewardship and Transportation Infrastructure executive order.

“This is a very important step for the San Diego region,” said Gary Gallegos, the executive director of the San Diego Association of Governments, the region’s planning agency. “This, coupled together with TransNet, equals relief for I-5.”

TransNet is the half-cent sales tax funding transportation projects throughout the region.

The executive order issued by the president in 2002 is a list of transportation projects that will get high-level attention across the federal government, so that the decision-making process does not slow down.

“When projects stall, transportation money just gets tied up,” said Jeffrey Shane, the undersecretary for policy of the U.S. Department of Transportation. “The executive order is a way to end these delays. It can shave years off the approval process.”

Issued in 2002, the executive order advises the numerous agencies of the federal government to work together, cutting through the red tape, and to make decisions on projects that have been in a stalemate for several years now.

The project involves construction of four additional general-purpose lanes, a high occupancy vehicle/managed lane facility, and operational improvements.

The costs are expected to be between $1.1 billion and $1.4 billion, including federal aid and local government financing.

Funding has yet to be provided for the project, although construction is set to begin in 2009.

“I think I-5 has been a too-hard-to-do pile for too long,” Shane said. “It (the executive order) is a lot faster than infinity.”

The project will still go through the same processes as other projects but will be sped up, ensuring that the project does not stall.

Pedro Orso-Delgado, San Diego’s district director for Caltrans, said I-5 is one of the region’s “lifeline corridors.”

“I-5 connects Mexico and Canada with the United States,” Orso-Delgado said. “We want to get in and make the corridor better than we left it. The next step is to get financing , to make sure the financing does happen.”

While the project is placed on the fast track, it in no way means that the project is guaranteed.

But U.S. Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham, R-San Diego, said that he will work toward getting the financing and making sure that the project continues on its path.

“This is to expedite the project in which we are able to continue things faster,” Cunningham said. “This allows families to spend more time at home.”

San Diego’s I-5 North Coast Project has joined five other projects, in Ohio, Texas, Utah, Georgia and Connecticut, on the fast track list.

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