SR-76 Proposed Expressway Routes Through Fallbrook / Bonsall

The widening of SR76 from Mission to I-15 is temporarily dead as of 2/25/00, and a right-of-way acquisition sufficient for only four lanes is now planned from Mission Road and Melrose, with that section built from ~2008-2010. However, Caltrans is still conducting environmental studies for a six-lane expressway from Mission to I-15, although attempts are being made to terminate these studies. Until the situation completely settles down, I'll leave the mid-1999 bulk of this page intact, with subsequent information in updates. Hence readers should probably consult the updates first to have a better perspective on the rest of the page.

Freeway battles can go on a long time. The extension of the Long Beach Freeway through South Pasadena has been fought for over 20 years, with no concrete poured yet.

Table of Contents

Background, History and Current Plans
   Update on 12/23/99
   Update on 1/20/00
   Update on 3/18/00
Proposed Routes
Current Estimated Timeline
The Process to be followed
The Effect on Fallbrook / Bonsall
Contact Information

Background, History and Current Plans

It has long been recognized that San Diego County needs better east-west routes to manage current and expected future traffic. As long ago as 1965, plans were made to upgrade SR-76 to a freeway or expressway to connect I-15 with I-5 in the northernmost part of San Diego County.

As is often the case, the major problem has been money. In November 1997, San Diego County voters approved adding a half-percent sales tax for a period of 20 years to fund a specific set of improvements to the transportation system in San Diego County. The program is now called Transnet, and specifically included funding the upgrade of SR-76 from I-5 to I-15.

Although the initial desire was for a freeway, the SR-76 upgrade became an expressway, since a freeway would cost three times as much as an expressway. However, land acquisition and grading are being done as if it were a freeway, to allow the expressway to be upgraded to a freeway when funds become available.

Phase I of the SR-76 upgrade was from I-5 to Foussat Road in Oceanside, and was completed ~1996. Phase II was for the 6 miles from Foussat Road to Jeffries Ranch Road and was completed in 1999. Phase III of the SR-76 upgrade is from Melrose Drive in Oceanside to I-15. Construction will not begin until at least 2005, and won't be complete until at least 2010.

The agency that sets transportation priorities and funds the projects in San Diego County, including the Transnet funds, is SANDAG, the San Diego Association of Governments. The Transnet sales tax is expected to raise $2.7 billion (1995 dollars) over its 20 year lifetime. However, SANDAG's 20 year plan released 3/26/99 calls for projects with a total cost of $25 billion, but only $16 billion from existing taxes and fees is projected to be available by 2020. As a result, Phase III is currently not funded, although it is in the 20 year plan. It may even end up as a toll road, since the costs of the specific Transnet projects now exceed the expected Transnet revenue.

Because Phase III is in the 20 year plan, and because Caltrans has received federal dollars to pay for the detailed planning, Caltrans is beginning engineering and environmental studies for it.

In October, 1998, The 76 East Project: Supplemental Project Study Report was completed by Caltrans, updating an initial study report completed in February, 1989. The report states that the major motivations for the expressway are:

In other words, the expressway is primarily to relieve congestion caused by Temecula residents commuting to Oceanside and Carlsbad.

The report updated the costing only for putting an expressway along the current SR-76 route, and explicitly did not present information on any alternatives under consideration. However, since this portion of SR-76 is along the San Luis Rey River, and construction along that route will impact about 25 acres of wetlands, the report notes that The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and Section 404 of the Clean Water Act both presume that there are upland alternatives available which are assumed to be less environmentally damaging unless proven otherwise. (See also Corps Regulatory Program for Section 404.)

The report did comment that a route through Gopher Canyon, meeting I-15 significantly south of the current I-15 / SR-76 interchange, would not accomplish the goals of an SR-76 expressway since it would be likely that the old SR-76 would still be used by Temecula commuters. The document also commented that a report was prepared for Assemblyman Bruce Thompson (Fallbrook) in response to his request to make the upgraded SR-76 a freeway instead of an expressway.

About January, 1999, a group of Caltrans and SANDAG representatives, including design engineers and Caltrans environmental representatives, participated in a 3 month study to develop alternative routes. They considered about 10 routes, including a route through Gopher Canyon, but wanted to narrow it down to a few routes to minimize the immediate impact on the Fallbrook / Bonsall community.

Given the imposed constraints to meet I-15 at the current interchange with SR-76, and the necessity to have an upland alternative route, the group developed the current set of six alternatives, which basically boil down to three alternative pathways, plus a "no build" option:

See Proposed Routes.

The expressway will have a minimum width of 172' (52.8 m). To allow flexibility in the final actual path, the study zone for each of the alternatives has a width of ~400'. Caltrans will conduct detailed engineering and environmental studies of the entire 400' study zone over the next several years and then prepare a Draft Environmental Impact Report (EIR), which will respond to the requirements of The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and Section 404 of the Clean Water Act. It is quite unlikely that any path outside those alternatives will be considered, since the detailed study needed to justify any such path will not be done.

A notice of intent to prepare an environmental document was filed in the Federal Register May 19, 1999 and a Notice of Preparation issued two days later, and biological field studies have begun. Parcel owners along the proposed routes, those whose property might be taken by eminent domain for the Expressway, were notified in mid-June 1999 and asked to give permission for Caltrans representatives to enter their property and conduct studies for the next five years.

As of July 9, 1999, limited info about this project was posted at the Caltrans website from the SR-76 East link on the District 11 factsheets webpage, including a map of the project.

An SR-76 East Public Scoping Meeting was held on Wednesday, July 14, 1999, 4 - 8 p.m. at Sullivan Middle School, Multipurpose Room, 7350 W. Lilac Road in Bonsall. The purpose of the meeting was to "incorporate your concerns and ideas into our planning". All of the key Caltrans people were there to gather input from the public and to explain what was happening. Nearly a thousand people attended that meeting, and the comment box was filled with written comments.

The flyer for the meeting stated that the estimated cost for the alternatives under study range from $140 to $220 million.

The draft Environmental Impact Report will be distributed for public review and comment at the end of 2001, with final approval expected by October 2002 at the earliest.

Update on 12/23/99

On December 17, 1999, SANDAG voted to strike plans for the widening of SR-76 between Mission Road and I-15, removing them from their draft 2020 regional transportation plan. Preliminary studies of the routes apparently showed significant environmental problems related to the San Luis Rey River that led to increased cost estimates. Lee Hultgren, SANDAG's Director of Transportation, said "If you go one way, you get least Bell's vireos. If you go the other way you get into gnatcatcher habitat." Apparently there were serious doubts if they could overcome the environmental effects of even a four-lane expressway there. The widening project does remain in the SANDAG "revenue unconstrained plan", but that makes it quite unlikely to occur in the foreseeable future.

Terminating the existing environmental study still requires the consent of other agencies. "If we can get the various agencies to agree that we can drop the alternatives, then that's what they'll do", Ruelas said. Specifically, the northern study corridor will be eliminated if the other agencies agree, according to Ramon Ruelas, the Caltrans project manager.

The part of the expressway between Mission Road and Melrose was trimmed to acquiring right-of-way for only four lanes, instead of the previous six lanes planned there. The current schedule is for approval of the EIR in 2004 or 2005, a 2-3 year design phase, and construction beginning around 2008.

Source: VN 12/23/99, 1, 9, 35.

Update on 1/20/00

The County Board of Supervisors recommended to SANDAG that the downsizing proposal in the draft 2020 plan be eliminated, and the original plan for the SR76 improvements be reinstated. SANDAG is expected to adopt the final 2020 Regional Transportation Plan on 2/25/00.

The local SR76 Advisory committee is recommending that the northern route be entirely dropped and that more alternative routes be considered.

Source: VN 1/20/00, 1, 23.

Update on 3/18/00

SANDAG approved the 2020 Regional Transportation Plan on 2/25/00 as drafted for SR76. Therefore the widening of SR76 from Mission to I-15 is now dead, at least temporarily. However, these plans are reviewed every 2-4 years, and can be amended at any time. Hence the widening could be reinstated in the future. Source: VN 3/2/00, A1.

There still has been no information about whether the environmental studies will continue, to be ready for the day when funding becomes available for the widening. No article has appeared telling homeowners on any proposed routes that the routes have been dismissed from consideration. The Caltrans Fact Sheet has unchanged information, with a date of January 2000.

Proposed Routes

Caltrans is examining three major different possible alignments for the Expressway, with an additional two minor variations (see Map):

This route information is taken from the Map provided by Caltrans. The map is not to scale, and hence my interpretation of the exact routes may not be exact. At the Public Scoping Meeting, all affected parcel numbers were available.

On 7 July 1999 the map link above returned "no data", but was working on July 9, 1999. If the map is not available there, a lower-quality scanned map is available here.

Current Estimated Timeline

The draft Environmental Impact Report will be distributed for public review and comment at the end of 2001, with 45 days allotted for comments. A public hearing will be held to answer questions and accept comments. Final approval is expected by October 2002 at the earliest, with the following parties making the decision as required by the given law:

Federal Highway Admininstration (FHWA)NEPA
California Transportation Commission (CTC)Route Adoption

The timetable in The 76 East Project: Supplemental Project Study Report is:

Complete Environmental Documentation   2002
Purchase Right of Way, Complete Design, Begin Construction   2005
Complete Construction   2010

The flyer for the Public Scoping Meeting stated that construction will begin Summer 2005 and end Summer 2010.

The first phase of construction will be from Melrose Drive to about Vista Way, and is currently scheduled to be completed in 2007 or 2008. The second phase continues the Expressway to I-15, and will be completed in 2010.

However, handwritten notes on the copy of the report that I examined added one year to each of those dates, which are likely to be more correct than the published dates.

The Process to be followed

Caltrans will now conduct engineering and environmental studies for the project. For each alternative, the cost will be calculated to build the expressway, and to mitigate any environmental damage caused by the construction. Impacts on the environment seem to have the highest priority, due to the heavy force of the laws that must be satisfied, but impacts on the community are also weighed in the decision. In particular, the effect of the expressway on the sociological environment of Fallbrook and Bonsall, including the effect on lifestyles in the community, will be weighed. This is where input from the community is vital.

Nothing can be done to speed up this process or delay it. This is Standard Operating Procedure for freeway building.

The Effect on Fallbrook / Bonsall

Affected residents should seek a reappraisal of their property to reduce their property taxes, since the uncertainty over the route is definitely affecting local real estate values. Property owners have between July 2 and September 15 each year to file appeals to their assessments, and can submit a written request for reduction in March through May each year. See County Assessor FAQ for more information, including obtaining recent sales information.

There are many other affects on the Fallbrook area, but since it now looks like the Expressway is dead, I haven't written this section since the need for it currently seems nil.

Contact Information

PersonPositionPhone Number
Ramon RuelasCaltrans Project Manager(619) 688-6803
Susanne GlasgowCaltrans Environmental Branch Chief(619) 688-6715
Eric PahlkeSANDAG Highway engineer quoted about the project in the Village News on 5/27/99, 14. 

You can write Susanne Glasgow at:

Susanne Glasgow
Caltrans, M.S. 46
P.O. Box 85406
San Diego, CA 92186-5406

Sources: VN 5/27/99, 14; Caltrans meeting flyer of early July, 1999.

The 76 East Project Supplemental Project Study Report: Document Info

11-San Diego-76
KP R12.1 - R28.3
(PM R7.5 - R17.6)

Author: Duy Ton, design manager
Date: 10/20/98.

Go to Fallbrook Information Overview

Copyright © 1999-2000 by Tom Chester.
Permission is freely granted to reproduce any or all of this page as long as credit is given to me at this source:
Comments and feedback: Tom Chester
Last update: 18 March 2000.