Temecula kicks off project expected to fix congestion at 15, 215 split

‘Cone Kid’ photobombs the group photo of dignitaries during the kick-off event for the I-15/French Valley Parkway Phase 2 Project on Thursday, Nov. 7. Jeff Pack photo

Temecula city leaders, along with state and congressional representatives, were on hand at Temecula City Hall Thursday to kick off the second phase of the French Valley Parkway/Interstate 15 interchange project.

The event was held on the roof of the City Hall parking garage – in order to give attendees a “view of the northbound 15 traffic that we are about to fix,” Temecula City Mayor Mike Naggar said.

“We’ve never had an event on top of our garage,” Naggar said. “Then again, we’ve never been awarded $50 million in grant money.”

The grant, awarded by the U.S. Department of Transportation and announced by Rep. Ken Calvert – who represents a portion of Temecula – back in July, is the largest the city of Temecula has ever received, Naggar said.

“And let me tell you, ladies and gentlemen, we’ve had our share of grants, trust me,” Naggar said.

Phase one of the French Valley Parkway interchange project, which included a single southbound off-ramp from Interstate 15, was completed in 2014. No progress will be made on the actual interchange – it will be years before that is completed in the third phase –  but the $136 million second phase of the project will create a collector and distributor road system between Winchester Road and the Interstate 15/Interstate 215 split. The road system will separate traffic merging onto the freeway at Rancho California Road and Winchester Road from through traffic, and prevent those vehicles from getting onto the main freeway until after the I-15/I-215 interchange.

Rep. Ken Calvert is presented with a replica of a street sign commemorating his efforts to obtain a $50 million grant for the I-15/French Valley Parkway Phase 2 Project by the Temecula City Council on Thursday, Nov. 7. Jeff Pack photo

The cost will be paid for partially with the grant money, and the rest will be made up with state funds.

The project is predicted to eliminate much of the afternoon traffic backup on I-15 through Temecula.

“Common sense will tell us to pave the median along the I-15 freeway to pop in some extra lanes – and believe me that’s still on the list of things to do – but working with our transportation experts at (the Western Riverside Council of Governments) it was pretty obvious that one of the biggest solutions is resolving the weaving that goes back and forth between the I-15 and 215 area,” Temecula City Councilman Matt Rahn said at the event. “And that causes ripple effects all the way down this corridor in the afternoon like we’re seeing now.”

Rahn said while working with WRCOG, it was determined that much of the traffic congestion on I-15 is actually caused by vehicles just passing through the area – not Temecula locals.

“It’s a lot of folks just trying to get through this valley,” Rahn said. “A city of roughly 113,000 people should not be listed in the top 10 worst congested freeways in the United States, and nor should it be our responsibility to subsidize the state or federal government in fixing that problem.”

Naggar also said Caltrans has committed to building auxiliary lanes between each freeway exit in Temecula.

The city, he said, will take the lead on the first set of auxiliary lanes to be constructed between Temecula Parkway and Rancho California Road on northbound I-15.

“And that’s going to be at a cost of about 7 million,” Naggar said. “So if you travel down the 15 freeway going north and you enjoy those auxiliary lanes that are about to be built, thank a citizen of the city of the Temecula because that’s coming out of our general fund.”

Temecula officials attributed much of their success in receiving the Department of Transportation grant to Calvert, who was the guest of honor at the construction kickoff event.

City Councilman James Stewart said after Temecula officials explained to Calvert that state funds that had been awarded to the project would go away if the city couldn’t get the project completed soon, he promised to find a way to get federal funds.

From right, city of Temecula City Manager Aaron Adams, Riverside County Third District Supervisor Chuck Washington and 67th District Assemblywoman Melissa Melendez listen to the presentation at Thursday, Nov. 7’s kick-off event for the I-15/French Valley Parkway Phase 2 Project. Jeff Pack photo

“He said, ‘we’ll get you the money,’” Stewart said.

The Temecula project was just one out of nearly 200 applications for a little more than $850 million of Department of Transportation grant funds, Calvert explained.

“Only 20 were selected,” Calvert said. “French Valley Parkway was one of only 10 large projects selected.”

He acknowledged Rep. Duncan Hunter, who represents Temecula alongside Calvert and was present for part of the event but left halfway through. Hunter continues to face federal charges in connection with allegations that he and his wife used $250,000 of campaign money to pay for personal expenses; his wife reached a deal with prosecutors and pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy in June.

“Duncan’s my friend and colleague and we all work together on projects like this,” Calvert said of his embattled fellow congressman. “It’s a privilege when we’re successful to get needed dollars to this area.”

Other dignitaries present at the event included Assemblywoman Melissa Melendez, Murrieta Mayor Kelly Seyarto and Assistant U.S. Secretary of Transportation for Governmental Affairs Adam Sullivan.

Work on the collector and distributor lane project is expected to take place over the next five years.