When Santa Clarita Mayor Pro Tem Marsha McLean tried to use the freeway earlier this month, her experience, like many in the Santa Clarita Valley, was a bit tumultuous.
As McLean tried getting on the freeway at Lyons Avenue traveling northbound, blocked lanes made it difficult for her to dodge the trucks going by “pretty fast.”
That’s because the California Department of Transportation’s Interstate 5 Roadway Rehabilitation Project is well underway. The 15.8-mile stretch of I-5 under construction cuts through the Santa Clarita Valley, and has served daily traffic for 50 years.
Construction on the two-year, $171 million project is ongoing. The end result will be a smoother, safer drive for motorists and it will reduce time required for future maintenance that would close lanes and lead to delays, Caltrans officials and project advocates say.
The temporary inconvenience will be worth it, McLean said.
“When everything is done and is completed, it’s going to really be wonderful,” she said. “Right now, the only advice I can give to people is to drive very carefully and very slowly because the construction changes the lanes constantly. So just be careful.“
What’s going on?
Without repair and maintenance, the roadways would become functionally obsolete, said Victor Lindenheim, executive director of the Golden State Gateway Coalition, a local organization that advocates for improvements to I-5 and other roadways in northern Los Angeles County.
Thus, construction began last summer and is slated to end in 2019. In these two years, the stretch of I-5 from one half-mile south of State Route 14 to 1.7 miles north of Lake Hughes Road will see significant repairs.
Concrete paving must be continuously upgraded in the outside lanes, known as “No. 3” and “No. 4” lanes.
In lanes No. 1 and No. 2, broken slabs are being replaced while “profile grinding” ensures a smooth surface for vehicles. Concrete pavement will also be installed in portions of the roadway with asphalt, and the guardrails will also be upgraded.
The project is on schedule and halfway to completion for 2019, said Caltrans spokesman Michael Comeaux.
What does this mean for traffic?
Caltrans has made efforts to keep at least two freeway lanes open for traffic in the construction zone, while one is kept open between midnight and 4 a.m.
Temporary bypass lanes are also located on two separate portions of northbound and southbound I-5.
Some bypass lanes are already in effect, said Comeaux. However, drivers who have never seen them before need not worry about safety.
“For a driver seeing a bypass lane for the first time, it may come as a little bit of a surprise because it may be an unusual experience to actually cross over the median of the freeway and be on what is normally the inside shoulder of the other side of the freeway,” he said. “But there are concrete barriers in place to assure that this is a safe arrangement and it’s done under careful specifications to ensure safety.”
The bypass lanes are needed to ensure four lanes of traffic can still flow smoothly during construction and not disrupt commutes, Comeaux said. The bypass lane is not a carpool or HOV lane.
On its website (dot.ca.gov), Caltrans also has a map of the area for residents to see when their commutes will be affected. It also puts out periodic bulletins to alert people to significant delays due to construction.
All of this is to benefit the “Golden Transportation Triangle,” as Lindenheim calls the I-5, SR-14, and SR-138. With state, county and federal money funding the project, he said, the I-5 will be significantly improved.
Lindenheim said that due to the half-cent statewide gas tax that pays for the project, the city of Santa Clarita is projected to get a return of $64.4 million over a decade.
The I-5 Roadway Rehabilitation Project is not to be confused with the separate project to build carpool lanes and high occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes in both directions, said Comeaux. That project, with the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority serving as the lead agency, is the second of two phases of the Interstate 5 North Los Angeles County Capacity Enhancement Project.
The Metro project will extend the HOV lanes on I-5 from the Route 14 interchange to just south of the Parker Road interchange, and incorporate two additional truck lanes. One would be northbound and run from Route 14 to Calgrove Boulevard. Another would be southbound and go from Pico Canyon Road and Lyons Avenue to Route 14 with auxiliary lanes.
“Ideally, this rehab should have happened at the same time as a bridge widening and carpool lanes project, in a more immediate sequence,” Lindenheim said. “But money is not always there when you want it or need it.”
McLean, who is also the city’s representative and vice chair of the North County Transportation Coalition, said the inconveniences for motorists will be worth it when all of the projects are completed. “I know it’s a ways down the road until completion, but fixing the I-5 is an absolute necessity and I’m happy they’re working on it.”