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Previewing the Construction Phases of the Ortega Highway/I-5 Interchange Project

Anyone who lives, works or commutes in or through San Juan Capistrano should be aware that Carmageddon is coming in the form of the Ortega Highway/I-5 Interchange Project.  Caltrans is reconstructing the freeway interchange at this location to eliminate traffic congestion.  In addition, Ortega Highway is being re-aligned so that traffic will flow directly onto Del Obispo Street, rather than cueing up for a left turn.  The project is scheduled to begin this month, although it looks as though the commencement of actual construction will be delayed until “early 2013.”  Project completion is supposed to occur by early 2015.  Two years is a long time.  To better plan for the coming traffic delays and detours, we reviewed the project’s Transportation Management Plan (TMP) in an attempt to determine when the road closures were likely to occur.  Caltrans requires construction projects to formulate a Transportation Management Plan when the project is expected to cause “significant impacts” on the State’s highway system.  The Ortega Interchange project’s Transportation Management Plan is designed to ensure a “traffic impact with a delay not greater than 30 minutes above a motorist’s normal travel time.”  Using the TMP, we have summarized below an anticipated sequence of construction phases for the I-5/Ortega Interchange project:

Stage One

  • Crews will first remove the existing shoulders of I-5, followed by construction of new travel lanes and shoulders.  (This is phase 1A as illustrated on the image below.)
  • The existing south half of the Ortega bridge would be demolished, and new bridge abutments would be constructed.
  • The existing center bridge column would be demolished and a new center column and bridge deck would be built.
  • The new Northbound I-5 off- and on-ramps will be constructed.  Northbound off-ramp construction will require the ramp to be closed for up to 15 working days, requiring motorists to use alternate detour routes.
  • Crews will next construct half of the Southbound I-5 off-ramp and retaining walls.
  • Southbound I-5 on-ramp and portion of Ortega west of the bridge will be built.  The Southbound I-5 on-ramp will be closed for 26 working days.
  • Construction of Ortega between the Southbound on- and off-ramps and Del Obispo Street will continue, requiring closure for 10 working days.  Del Obispo will be reduced to a single lane of traffic in each direction.

Stage Two

  • Traffic is shifted from the north side of the old bridge to the new bridge on the south side.  The north side of the bridge will be demolished.  The Northbound on-ramp will be completed and opened to the public.
  • Ortega west of Del Obispo will be closed for up to 21 days to allow for reconstruction of Del Obispo.  In addition, the Southbound I-5 on-ramp will be completed.
  • Work will continue on Eastbound Ortega until completion.

Although it is unclear when some of these closures will occur, Caltrans has stated that “no extended full closures … will be allowed from the day before Thanksgiving to the day after New Year’s Day and during the last two weeks in March of any given year,” except that if the project is behind schedule, crews can work during these dates in 2016.  As mentioned above, the project is supposed to be complete by 2015.

The image below illustrates the full scope and impact of the first phase of construction – phase 1A.  This is the phase that involves closing the shoulders on I-5 and demolishing the south half of the bridge.  In addition, construction will begin on the Northbound on-ramp and new bridge abutments.  Full resolution version available here.

I-5 will maintain its current number of lanes in each direction.  Ortega will be restriped to two lanes in each direction.  All other traffic patterns will be maintained.  The more detailed project map below shows the rerouting of traffic over the north half of the Ortega bridge to permit demolition of the south section.  Full resolution version available here.

Caltrans maintains a project site here.  You can download the entire Transportation Management Plan here.

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