San Diego Business Journal

BY YARA SOUZA

Communities surrounding state Route 56 are slowly, yet surely, becoming a new core business hub in San Diego County.

The main goal of the newest east-west connection between Interstates 5 and 15 was to alleviate mounting traffic congestion. More and more people are indeed using SR-56 to travel from inland to the coast , to the tune of an estimated 84,000 to 120,000 vehicles a day in the next 15 years, according to the California Department of Transportation Web site.

State Route 56 was completed in July 2004 with the addition of a 5-mile stretch to make it about 10 miles long. It was planned to start as a four-lane freeway, but will eventually have six lanes, according to Caltrans. The road was expected to accommodate 20,000 vehicles per day initially.

Commuters are finding places to run their errands on the way, while more businesses keep busy serving this expanded clientele.

Kim McKittrick, owner of Golf Etc. in Torrey Highlands, north of Del Mar, said people come to her store from Rancho Santa Fe, Rancho Bernardo, Poway, Carmel Valley and Del Mar.

"It's a prime location," she said. "The route has helped with business business is definitely good."

McKittrick said the shopping center in which her business is located, Torrey Highlands Village, opened in July 2004 and is still fairly young.

"The center is growing, so we perceive more traffic," she said of the 90,000-square-foot complex in Torrey Highlands anchored by Albertsons.

McKittrick added that business should continue to improve as new homes and businesses come into the area and bring more traffic, especially when Camino del Sur connects with Camino del Norte next year.

More Opportunities Coming

Gary Powers, the president and chief executive officer of the San Diego North Chamber of Commerce, said the opening of the Camino Del Sur-4S Ranch link west of Rancho Bernardo in March will provide more opportunities for commuting businesspeople.

"It will make the businesses on Route 56 a few minutes away from Rancho Bernardo, 4S Ranch, Santa Fe Valley and provide another route (to) further ease the traffic on I-15," said Powers, whose chamber covers the communities of 4S Ranch, Rancho Bernardo, Rancho Penasquitos, Carmel Mountain Ranch and Torrey Highlands, among others.

Powers noted the difference that SR-56 has made for entrepreneurs.

"This has been an extremely important highway to open for inland North County as well as the coast," he said. "Businesses now are able to do business throughout the North County area by speeding up the delivery time and opening up new markets.

"For the businesses along Route 56, they are beginning to prosper as more motorists travel this route."

Richard Lim, owner of a Carvel ice cream parlor in Torrey Highlands, echoed this sentiment.

"We're a new store, so it's still early to tell," he said, "but if the 56 wasn't here, we wouldn't be here either."

Carvel, an East Coast ice cream chain, has only two locations in California, including one in San Diego.

"A lot of people stop by either going (to) or coming (from the North County coast)," Lim said. "I'd say no more than a 5 to 10 percent increase (in business) from the freeway."

He said he's also anticipating the completion of the surrounding residential areas, but is happy with the visibility his store is getting.

"People will drive 15, 20 miles to get here," Lim said. "It's very accessible."

Carmel Alterations and Tailoring owner Tanya Nguyen, however, said her store has been in the same location for about five years, so it's more difficult to judge if the 56 has really had an impact on business.

"Our business has stayed the same," she said. "We don't know where people are coming from, but it's usually around here (off the 56 at Rancho Penasquitos)."

Good Place To Be

McKittrick, who has five employees in Torrey Highlands and seven at her Rancho San Diego store, said location is everything in retail.

"Being on a freeway is great," she said. "You want to be accessible, and this is a good place , especially in our case because of the number of golf courses in this area."

She added that her store's revenues are up from last year, but would not disclose any specific sales figures.

According to the Caltrans Web site, the cost of the freeway was about $220 million, including construction and property acquisition. The money came from the state, the San Diego Association of Governments, the county and city sources.

Completion of the 56 was stalled for many years due to a lack of funding, said John Weil, chief of staff for 3rd District Supervisor Pam Slater-Price. Slater-Price was a key player in acquiring $20 million for the freeway, he said.

"We knew it'd be a regionally important road that would benefit the area," Weil said.

Many business owners in the area agree and said the business patterns within the next two to five years should verify this belief.

"Route 56 has been extremely important to business for Torrey Highlands and Carmel Valley," Powers said. "It has further helped all our inland communities, as well as the coast."

Yara Souza is an intern for the San Diego Business Journal.