From the gasps and groans, you would have thought the gathering of 250 or so people Thursday night was watching a horror movie.
Really, they were getting the details on what life will be like when a Caltrans contractor starts rebuilding the Ortega Highway interchange at the I-5, starting next month.
Caltrans hosted its first of three public meetings at St. Margaret’s Episcopal School Thursday, and when the announcement was made that the bridge over the freeway will be cut in size by half during much of the construction phase, the displeasure was audible.
“We know it’s going to be challenging,” said David Richardson, a spokesman for Caltrans who ran the meeting. However, “not doing this project is not an option,” he said of the $86.2 million plan that has been in the works since 2000.
- Hear more about the project in an informal conversation with Caltrans Saturday, either from 7-8:30 a.m. at Historic Town Center Park or 9-10:30 a.m. at Cook Park
The interchange overhaul will increase the size, height and capacity of the Ortega bridge over the freeway, create a cloverleaf onramp for northbound traffic and reroute westbound drivers from Ortega onto Del Obispo Street.
The two-year construction project will feature “intermittent” night closures of the north- and southbound on- and off-rams, as well as alternating, several-week, full closures of the ramps and even sections of Ortega Highway west of the freeway, Richardson said. (See photo.)
“It’s a large project. The footprint is so small and your city is so vibrant with so many events, it’s impossible to say it won’t have an impact,” Richardson said.
He figures local residents will find ways around the closures and back-ups, such as taking Rancho Viejo Road to Junipero Serra Road or La Novia Avenue to San Juan Creek Road.
Residents who live along Ortega, San Juan Creek Road and Rancho Viejo Road had many concerns about the detours.
“It’s jammed now. How is it going to be after you close Ortega,” said Ray Griffith.
Jim Elder agreed. He lives off San Juan Creek Road in senior housing next to the golf course, and it’s already a challenge to turn onto the main road. He asked for a traffic signal near his complex.
“If somebody gets clobbered, it’s going to be too late,” Elder said.
“I know we’re already screwed,” said Richard Wordes to laughs. Wordes said new homes at Rancho Mission Viejo may make the new interchange undersized in no time once all the homes come online.
Richardson said the project is prompted in part by development plans east of San Juan Capistrano.
“We need to provide congestion relief. We’re going to have a great new bridge,” he said.