An artist’s rendering of the new and larger San Elijo Lagoon highway bridge designed to improve tidal flow in the lagoon and accommodate an additional carpool lane in each direction. A new bike/pedestrian suspended bridge will also link the south and north sides of the lagoon, and will connect to a bike path on Manchester Avenue. Image courtesy of Caltrans

A $6 billion project aimed at enhancing the environment and reducing traffic congestion along the Interstate 5 corridor between Solana Beach and Carlsbad kicked off Tuesday.

Caltrans and the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG), along with local and state leaders, were on hand to commence construction on the first phase of the 40-year North Coast Corridor Program. Known as Build NCC, the first phase includes $700 million worth of transportation, public access and environmental improvements in the cities of Solana Beach, Encinitas and Carlsbad.

According to a statement from Caltrans officials, this first phase is designed to lay the foundation for future components of the program and will help address the immediate transportation and environmental needs of the corridor, including:

  • Fourteen miles of carpool lanes on I-5 between Solana Beach and northern Carlsbad to provide congestion relief for high occupancy vehicles, buses, and permitted clean air vehicles.
  • More than 2 miles of new double track across the San Elijo and Batiquitos lagoons, expanding the Los Angeles-San Diego-San Luis Obispo (LOSSAN) rail line’s capacity and minimizing overall travel times.
  • Four new highway and rail bridges across the San Elijo and Batiquitos lagoons to improve lagoon tidal flow.
  • Two new separated bike and pedestrian paths at the I-5/Encinitas Boulevard and Santa Fe Drive interchanges.
  • Ten miles of new North Coast Bike Trail to enhance bike and pedestrian public access to the coastline, encouraging more people to use active transportation.
  • Ten sound walls to improve the quality of life for people living near the freeway.
  • Restoration of the San Elijo Lagoon.
  • More than 200 acres of enhanced or preserved coastal habitat.

In the works for more than a decade, Build NCC has been a collaborative effort between Caltrans, SANDAG, local cities, resource agencies and community members, according to the Caltrans statement.  The project is funded by a combination of local, state and federal resources, including TransNet, the voter approved half-cent sales tax.

“As the region continues to grow, it is critical our leaders look to increase transportation choices that address our future needs, and Build NCC represents just that,” SANDAG Board Chairman Ron Roberts said. “And this is just the beginning. When the full NCC Program is completed, we will have constructed 27-miles of new Express Lanes and bike and pedestrian paths, double tracked 97 percent of the rail corridor and enhanced and/or preserved hundreds of acres of our coastal habitat.”

“Protecting and preserving our coastal resources and lagoons is a vital component of the overall NCC Program,” said San Elijo Lagoon Nature Center Executive Director Doug Gibson. “Our coastal lagoons are home to a wide variety of flora and fauna and are enjoyed by thousands on a daily basis. The NCC Program will ensure that these resources can continue to be enjoyed for generations to come.”

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