By Brian Park
With Caltrans expected to begin major construction on the Interstate 5/Ortega Highway Interchange project this month, the San Juan Capistrano Chamber of Commerce has asked the city to consider temporarily opening the El Horno Street undercrossing to vehicle traffic for travel between the eastern and western parts of town.
In a letter addressed to the City Council on Thursday, February 7, Mark Bodenhamer, president and CEO of the Chamber, wrote, “Until its completion, this project will have tremendous negative impacts on our residents and businesses throughout its multi-year timeline … El Horno Street is the only realistic alternative we have to alleviate the east-west connection shortage that will be caused by this project.”
Caltrans’ $86.2-million project will completely rebuild the Ortega Highway bridge over I-5, construct a new northbound loop on-ramp, reconfigure the northern portion of Del Obispo Street leading to the bridge and apply several changes to existing on- and off-ramps. The project is expected to be completed in the spring of 2015.
According to Caltrans officials, most construction work will be limited to early morning hours. Nighttime closures will take place from midnight to 5 a.m. on weekdays and midnight to 6 a.m. and 7 a.m. on weekends.
Additionally, the northbound I-5 off-ramp at Ortega Highway will be closed for three weeks; the southbound I-5 on-ramp at Ortega Highway will be closed for six weeks; Ortega Highway between the southbound I-5 ramps and Del Obispo Street will be closed for three weeks; and Ortega Highway between Del Obispo Street and El Camino Real will be closed for four weeks.
Caltrans has worked with the city to establish detour routes during construction. Suggested detour routes include Rancho Viejo Road, San Juan Creek Road/Valle Road, La Novia Avenue, Camino Capistrano and Del Obispo Street. Motorists can also use Junipero Serra Road to the north.
From the west, El Horno Street starts at El Camino Real, travels underneath I-5 and stops just short of Rancho Viejo Road, near the north end of Marbella Plaza. The street is closed to vehicular traffic, although pedestrians regularly use the undercrossing.
The undercrossing was built in 1958, but city officials are not sure of its original intent, according to Cathy Salcedo, the city’s executive services manager. Salcedo added that the undercrossing was built before Rancho Viejo Road.
Salcedo also said the roadway is not wide enough to handle two-way traffic and is only opened for emergency access and special occasions.
El Horno Street also runs through the Mission Flats neighborhood, the city’s second oldest residential area, after the Los Rios Historic District, according to Salcedo. The surrounding neighborhood also includes the San Juan Capistrano Public Library, San Juan Elementary to the south, Junipero Serra High School to the west, as well as the Chamber of Commerce’s office on La Matanza Street.
In his letter, Bodenhamer suggests the city work with residents and stakeholders to discuss “a mutually agreeable plan” to open the road.
“We recognize there are new issues that would arise from opening El Horno,” Bodenhamer wrote. “The preservation of the unique ‘feel’ of this neighborhood and safety of the residents (particularly the children) are important factors that should be considered as part of this discussion.”