Long wait ends with Temecula ramping up for freeway project

Courtesy photo
Courtesy photo

Work will soon begin on a $51 million project that is aimed at unplugging Temecula’s southern-most bottleneck.

That start, which is now being painstakingly strategized and scheduled, marks a key juncture in Temecula’s 15-year push to unravel the knotted freeway ramps that serve the city’s crucial southern corridor.

“We are so ready,” said Mayor Maryann Edwards. “It can’t come soon enough.”

Edwards and other city officials cite the big picture gains – the long-term benefits that will come when the existing ramps at Interstate 15 and Temecula Parkway are finally expanded and reconfigured.

Yet those officials and others concede that the work set to occur over the next 18 months to two years will likely tangle traffic, strain nerves and amplify driver angst.

“We’re the first to admit that there be some congestion with this (project), but we’re going to do our best to minimize it,” Greg Butler, Temecula’s assistant city manager, said in a separate interview.

The project, which will transform the west side of I-15 at that location, will be one of the most closely-watched city improvements in years.

Concerns run high because the ramps serve Temecula’s hospital, its historic business district, a heavily-trafficked residential and commercial corridor and a rapidly-expanding Indian casino and resort.

Temecula Valley Hospital has become a regional medical hub since it opened in October 2013. The closure of Fallbrook’s community hospital in November 2014 has boosted the flow of residents from that region to Temecula for hospital services and specialty medical skills.

The daily congestion that snarls northbound commuters on I-15 has periodically delayed ambulance crews that shuttle between the Fallbrook area and Temecula. Thus, city staff has taken the medical community’s concerns to heart, Butler said.

He said Temecula is committed to keeping traffic flowing during the construction work and consistently informing motorists about the timing and nuances of the improvement project.

Butler and other officials and observers say the long-term benefits will be worth the bother.

“Yes, there will be congestion and there will be slow downs, but it’s the temporary pain you put up with in exchange for the (future) relief you receive,” said Ron Bradley, who served as Temecula’s city manager from 1994 to 1998.

The ramps improvement project took a big leap forward April 25, which is when Temecula council members unanimously approved a $23.6 million construction contract with an Irvine-based firm.

The project will be the first major facelift for a freeway interchange that dates to the 1970s, which is when I-15 started to take shape and Highway 79 looped its way through a bucolic community.

Temecula became a city in December 1989, amid waves of growth that spun off shopping centers and housing tracts. Freeway bridges and ramps were quickly impacted as the city’s population exploded.

The initial projects aimed at easing traffic jams on and around Temecula’s freeway bridges and ramps focused on Winchester and Rancho California roads. As those projects were planned and completed, the city’s southernmost ramps emerged as a top priority.

The city purchased a 35-acre tract flanking the existing Temecula Parkway interchange in the fall of 2004 for $7.1 million. Another 1.2 acres – land that is now blanketed by an ARCO AM PM gas station, convenience store and car wash – was added in June 2013 at a cost to the city of $5.6 million.

That cluster of commercial buildings will be razed as part of the ramps project. The timing of that demolition work has not been determined.

The start of the ramp work will also force many carpoolers to find new places to park their vehicles.

For years, vacant land at the south end of Old Town Front Street has been used as an unauthorized park-and-ride lot. Scores of vehicles can be spotted on the dirt-crusted city land most weekdays.

In February 2016, the council agreed to pay a Bakersfield company nearly $1.6 million to build a replacement park-and-ride lot at Temecula Parkway and La Paz Street. At the time, city officials anticipated that it would take about seven months to build the replacement lot.

But work has stopped at that site and no progress has been made in months. Difficulties surfaced with the contractor, Butler said, and the city hopes to seek new bids in a few months to complete that parking lot work.

City officials note the availability of spaces at a church about a mile away from the construction site that were designated years ago as an authorized park-and-ride lot.

Once the ramp replacement work is finished, Butler said the improvements will bring the greatest relief to southbound drivers who exit I-15 at Temecula Parkway.

The project is expected to cut the queue of southbound vehicles that stacks up as drivers wait to exit the freeway. The new configuration will whisk southbound drivers off the freeway and directly onto Temecula Parkway or Old Town Front Street.

Butler said he can watch the ebb and flow of exiting southbound vehicles throughout the day from his City Hall office. He predicted that those clumps of exiting cars and trucks will someday fade into a distant memory.

“That (project) should be a tremendous impact,” he said. “I predict that (exit queue) will be dramatically reduced, if not eliminated.”

9 Responses to "Long wait ends with Temecula ramping up for freeway project"

  1. Puch   May 5, 2017 at 2:17 pm

    What about the northbound disaster of traffic everyday? Sounds like it only benefits Pechanga to me!

    Reply
  2. Seth   May 6, 2017 at 8:25 am

    I have been a commuter to and from SD/Temecula since 2009. This is great news but a little off focus. I will tell you from daily commutes that two thirds of the afternoon north bound traffic congestion does NOT come from the 79/15 exchange! It comes from the 15/Winchester on ramp. That ramp needs to be at least a two lanes and an addition all the way to the 215 split. Do that and the north bound will ease up drastically! I can only hope this is the next big project

    Reply
  3. Andrew   May 7, 2017 at 2:03 pm

    How about a commuter train… Temecula is perfect for train service to SD.

    Reply
  4. Travis arnold   May 8, 2017 at 12:20 pm

    This will do nothing for the northbound issue. Maybe fix the real issue up the freeway.

    Reply
  5. Rob   May 10, 2017 at 2:50 pm

    Northbound traffic needs help. Coming north the traffic is caused by commuters merging onto the freeway at Winchester and at the same time northbound travelers merging over to the 215. A ramp to the northbound 215 from the number one lane would ease this bottleneck.

    Reply
  6. Maurice   May 23, 2017 at 2:19 pm

    All though I’m thankful for this and it will relieve a number of problems and worth the money being spent, we cant hail this as a total solution. I’m with Seth, The Winchester interchange is the real problem. If the ramp from Winchester going North were extended all the way up to the 215 split that would allow a free flow up to the split and alleviate much of the afternoon congestion going north. If you monitor the traffic build up in the afternoon it will begin at Winchester and slowly migrate south as volume builds up. Mostly due to the on-coming traffic entering north bound with inadequate acceleration lanes.

    Reply
  7. Wp   June 10, 2017 at 7:49 am

    How can you reduce the northbound on-ramp to I-15 N one lane? As it is the 2 lane, make-shift entrance is backed up even during non-peak hours? I do understand Pechanga funded half of this but to be frank, once their patrons experience exiting the casino they will indeed reconsider returning. Word will spread to not bother going to Pechanga b/c of this very flaw. Please I implore that major oversight be revisited by all members involved so that they can come to their common and business sense. Otherwise you will have very disgruntled patrons/employees/residents/businesses and all your financial restructuring efforts will be wasted. Spare the expenses. Now is the time to make amendments. Happy patrons, and pleased residents will make businesses thrive. Please, I along with many other concerned community members implore you to revisit the Nortbound entrance onto 15N. After all you may be one of those stuck in northbound traffic beyond Rancho Community Way.

    Reply
  8. DD   August 9, 2017 at 2:41 pm

    I have been a commuter on the I-15 sense 2007 when I first moved to Temecula. It appears 75% or more of the entire Temecula Valley brings there income to Temecula via San Diego area jobs. See the picture? It is a mistake to move to Temecula period if you work in SD. I am moving because of this mess. I routinely spend an 1 hour and 15 minutes in the morning getting to work and 2 hours or more getting home. Temecula is the problem, all on ramps from Winchester to the Temecula Pkwy. They cannot accommodate the numbers traveling to and from San Diego and there are no traffic lights to ease the merging congestion onto the I-15 ( the bottleneck effect) from merging on to the 15. If Temecula does not put traffic lights on the on Ramps, there will be zero ease in congestion on the I-15 and zero fix to the bottleneck. Temecula was once advertised as a Master Planned Community; a ridiculous mess now with no problem building more homes for suckers not knowing there are no roads to support the people who live here.

    Reply
  9. EB   September 19, 2017 at 1:11 pm

    I agree with Wp. That traffic going west bound on Temecula Pkwy to the 15 is not even being addressed here and that is a huge part. Pachanga brings their buses through there right at rush hour and it’s a nightmare. Fixing Winchester would help a lot too.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.