By Jim Shilander
San Clemente’s own highway project is on track to get underway this year, with the first work being done on “segment 2″ of the larger Orange County Transportation Authority project, the widening of I-5 between the San Clemente city line to just south of Avenida Vista Hermosa. The project will widen I-5 to accommodate a high occupancy vehicle lane through the length of the project, and is slated to last until 2015. The third segment of the total project, which includes the widening of the Avenida Pico exchange, is scheduled to begin construction in 2014 and last until 2017. Another project will include a rubberized asphalt overlay through the length of the city, which will begin in 2017.
San Clemente Assistant City Engineer Tom Bonigut noted that the process of preparing for the widening of the interchange had already begun. Two properties, the Shell Oil station and Burger Stop, will have to be acquired by OCTA and Caltrans because they will have to be demolished to accommodate the widened road.
Julie Toledo, who is handling community outreach for OCTA on the project, said the appraisal process for the properties is ongoing now. Once that process is completed, which she estimated would take a couple of months, negotiations between OCTA and the property owners will begin. Toledo believed that since all of the public outreach on the project had shown the two businesses as being eliminated, the public, the city and the business owners themselves were all well aware of what was going to happen. The recent takeover of two businesses in San Juan Capistrano had caught residents and city officials by surprise.
Toledo and others from the OCTA have become fixtures at city events and meeting trying to get the word out about the project. OCTA has a regular booth at the monthly Farmer’s Market on Avenida Del Mar and has been meeting with a number of “stakeholders,” throughout the city, including civic groups and homeowner’s associations. Toledo said a larger community meeting would be held at the end of the month to provide updates on the project.
Another unrelated project that will affect residents of San Clemente and Capistrano Beach is the widening of the overpass on Camino de Estrella/Camino de los Mares. The project is being done by Caltrans and is on track to be completed in May, David Richardson, a spokesman for Caltrans, said. The project was conceived because of the increased traffic at the exit in the last several years, Richardson said, and is adding an additional left-turn lane to the off-ramp in an effort to eliminate or reduce traffic problems on I-5 as drivers approach the exit, since the traffic light can sometimes delay drivers coming off the freeway, he explained. The bridge is being widened to accommodate that traffic. The project necessitated the removal of two palm trees to accommodate the widening of the street, which was necessitated due to the widening of the bridge. Richardson said Caltrans had contacted the city about possible mitigation of the issue but did not receive a response, and thus went ahead with removing the trees.