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Carmageddon Is Here: Ortega Bridge Lane Reduction Starts This Week

It’s here.  Carmageddon, South County style.

Tomorrow, “on Saturday, June 1 at 10 p.m., crews will reduce lanes on the Ortega Highway bridge over the I-5 freeway to two lanes in either direction in preparation for upcoming demolition activities on the south half of the bridge.”  This configuration will remain for approximately one year as crews demolish and reconstruct the south half of the Ortega bridge.  The new bridge configuration will look like this:

Until we experience the full bridge, ramp and road closures scheduled for mid-2014, the lane reductions on the Ortega overpass will be status quote for the better part of the next year as crews demolish and rebuild the bridge’s southern half.  When that is complete, traffic will be switched to the new southern section and we’ll repeat the process with the north side of the bridge.  If you think that’s going to take some time, you are correct.  Recall that Supervisor Bates’ office published a tentative timeline of the Ortega interchange project:

While the dates are not entirely set in stone, this timeline provides an estimated outline:

  • June 2013- Demolition of south side of bridge
  • May 2014- Work on the south bridge and on and off-ramps is expected to finish. Northbound I-5 on-ramp closure begins for an expected three weeks.
  • June 2014- Six week closure of southbound I-5 on-ramp
  • August 2014- Full closure of bridge for three weeks.
  • September 2014- Traffic switches to the finished south half of the bridge, and work begins on the north side.

Please use the detours and plan accordingly.  Junipero Serra Road and San Juan Creek Road will be the only east-west detours available to motorists during construction.  Unfortunately, the City has not yet agreed to open El Horno Street as a temporary detour, as we called for here, and as the San Juan Chamber of Commerce called for here.  Better late than never, we say.  Perhaps the reality of the reduced Ortega configuration will change some minds.  At a minimum, El Horno should be made available to emergency responders and school buses.

If you are not a local resident, don’t let the Ortega interchange project dissuade you from visiting historic San Juan Capistrano — the birthplace of Orange County.  Construction will be minimized during holidays and the annual Swallow’s Day festivities during the last two weeks of March.  In fact, you should make it your mission to experience San Juan!  Special fares and discounts are available to those who take the Metrolink to San Juan Capistrano.

Finally, as we did in a previous article, it is timely to again remind everyone why Caltrans and the City are embarking on this project, and why in the long run, it will be a good thing for South County.

The project will provide much-needed and long overdue traffic relief for one of the most congested areas in all of Orange County.  The interchange re-design will create a new, open and welcoming entrance to historic downtown San Juan Capistrano, a tremendous benefit for residents, commuters and the nearly one million visitors who come to San Juan Capistrano each year.  A wider Ortega bridge will also facilitate movement between east and west San Juan Capistrano, something we wrote about in this article, and will facilitate traffic to and from the communities to the east, including Ladera Ranch and Rancho Mission Viejo.

In the long run, the project is good for local businesses.  Beyond facilitating traffic, the interchange improvement is a key component of the business friendly Downtown Master Plan.  Business owners, the San Juan Chamber of Commerce and other stakeholders are being involved in the process and kept informed at weekly meetings.  The City intends to reduce or waive many fees for permits and is encouraging an increase in the number of community events during the construction project.  Increased signage around town and streamlined regulations on local businesses are in the works.  In short, the City of San Juan Capistrano is working hard to mitigate the interim impact on local businesses.

The end result is going to be better for all of us.

In the meantime:

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