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North County commuters to see relief from traffic congestion with SR 78 improvements

SAN MARCOS, Calif. -- Relief is in sight for North County commuters who battle daily traffic congestion on State Route 78 near Interstate 15.

A $41 million project broke ground last week in inland North County to ease traffic congestion during morning and afternoon commuting hours on a stretch of SR 78 that backlogs at the I-15. The project involves widening both westbound and eastbound SR 78, as well as replacing the Nordahl Road Bridge.

San Marcos Mayor Jim Desmond, Escondido Mayor Sam Abed, SANDAG Board Chairman and Encinitas Mayor Jerome Stocks, and Caltrans District 11 Acting Director Bill Figge marked the start of the largest component of the project – the bridge replacement – at the groundbreaking ceremony.

“With the new and expanded Palomar Medical Center West set to open this summer in Escondido, relieving congestion on SR 78 is more important than ever,” Stocks said. “Once the freeway improvements are complete, travelers will notice a big difference in the traffic flow.”

One part of the project is already done. In January, a new westbound auxiliary lane from the I-15 connector opened to traffic. The same month, construction began on eastbound SR 78 to add another auxiliary lane. Without the widening, the delay around the merge would get worse.

The San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) says the bridge replacement is crucial to relieving congestion at the Nordahl/SR 78 interchange and adjacent intersections. A new structure with dedicated left-turn lanes will be built to minimize vehicles stacking up and blocking the through lanes. The height of the bridge will be increased to provide a vertical clearance of 16’ 6”, up from 14’ 9”, which is presently the lowest clearance along SR 78. In addition, the bridge will be lengthened from 193 feet to 234 feet to accommodate future HOV lanes on SR 78. Nordahl Road will be widened to provide a dedicated right turn onto Montiel Road.

“This much-needed traffic relief project is welcome news to our residents as well as the thousands of motorists who travel this corridor every day,” Desmond said. “San Marcos is proud to be a partner in this important project.”

The bridge work is expected to be complete in fall 2012 and the new eastbound auxiliary lane in early 2013.

A workshop on the Nordahl Road Bridge Construction project is scheduled for Wednesday, March 7 at 6 p.m. at the San Marcos Civic Center, 1 Civic Center Drive, San Marcos, CA. Members of the public are encouraged to attend.

“This project is extremely important to North County not only because of the large number of people who will benefit from less traffic congestion, but also for the air quality and safety improvements and overall economic benefits,” Abed said. “The project also will improve traffic flow between Escondido and our neighboring city, San Marcos, and prepare for future Express Lanes on SR 78 to improve access to the nearby I-15.”

The SR 78 improvements are funded by a mix of local, state, and federal dollars. TransNet, a regional half-cent sales tax for transportation administered by SANDAG, provided $15.5 million. The City of San Marcos contributed $6.75 million, and the City of Escondido $4.75 million. Caltrans provided $14.1 million through the State Highway Operation and Protection Program.

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