Following conclusion of Interstate 5/Ortega Highway construction, community leaders hope for economic rebound

Regional and local community leaders gather for a photo following an Oct. 1 ceremony celebrating the completion of the I-5/Ortega Highway Interchange. Photo: Allison Jarrell
Regional and local community leaders gather for a photo following an Oct. 1 ceremony celebrating the completion of the I-5/Ortega Highway Interchange. Photo: Allison Jarrell

By Allison Jarrell

After roughly two and a half years of construction, improvements to the Ortega Highway Interchange at Interstate 5 in San Juan Capistrano finally opened to traffic on Sept. 4.

On Thursday, Oct. 1, South Orange County officials, leaders from Caltrans and the Orange County Transportation Authority, and scores of community members gathered to celebrate the completion of the $77.2 million improvement project, which aims to create a seamless bridge transition for daily commuters, lessen vehicle emissions and reduce commute time.

Work led by Caltrans and OCTA began in February 2013 to reconfigure and widen the roadways in an effort to alleviate traffic. The finished project incorporates San Juan’s Spanish architectural style with colored concrete on the new bridge and hand-painted textured retaining walls.

Mayor Derek Reeve makes a speech during an Oct. 1 event celebrating the completion of the I-5/Ortega Highway interchange project. Photo: Allison Jarrell
Mayor Derek Reeve makes a speech during an Oct. 1 event celebrating the completion of the I-5/Ortega Highway interchange project. Photo: Allison Jarrell

Improvements to the interchange include:

  • A reconstructed Ortega Highway bridge over the I-5 freeway, widened with additional turn lanes and through lanes
  • Widening of the existing north and south I-5 on- and off-ramps
  • Construction of a northbound loop on-ramp to the I-5 freeway
  • Realignment of Ortega Highway west of the I-5 interchange, curving the road into Del Obispo rather than continuing straight into Camino Capistrano
  • Realignment of Del Obispo street west of the interchange, eliminating the need for two intersections and streamlining it with one intersection and one traffic signal

Speakers at the Oct. 1 bridge dedication included Sen. Patricia Bates, 36th District; Assemblyman Bill Brough, 73rd District; Lisa Bartlett, Orange County Supervisor, 5th District; San Juan Capistrano Mayor Derek Reeve and officials from Caltrans, OCTA and the California Department of Transportation.

Joyce Stanfield Perry of the Juaneño Band of Mission Indians, Acjachemen Nation and Rev. Monsignor J. Michael McKiernan, pastor of the Mission Basilica/Mission San Juan Capistrano, blessed the bridge at the beginning and end of the ceremony.

Mayor Reeve said he was excited for the completion of the project, which he described as a stressful process.

“I can tell you from experience, there was a lot of sweat in the council chamber during this process and quite a bit of chills as well,” Reeve said.

Each speaker emphasized the importance of collaboration during the project, and during his speech, Reeve thanked former City Council members Tom Hribar and Laura Freese, former mayors Larry Kramer and John Taylor, Caltrans and OCTA staff, city staff, Sen. Bates, Assemblyman Brough, Supervisor Bartlett and the residents of San Juan Capistrano.

“Without those people … this entire process would have been much worse,” Reeve said.

Assemblyman Bill Brough speaks about the importance of the interchange project to San Juan Capistrano residents, as well as Orange County’s infrastructure as a whole. Photo: Allison Jarrell
Assemblyman Bill Brough speaks about the importance of the interchange project to San Juan Capistrano residents, as well as Orange County’s infrastructure as a whole. Photo: Allison Jarrell

Assemblyman Brough, whose office is based in San Juan Capistrano, emphasized the importance of the improved interchange to Orange County’s infrastructure as a whole during his speech.

“This project isn’t about concrete, asphalt and rebar. It’s an important network in our transportation system, to get people who live in San Juan Capistrano to school, to work, to restaurants, to businesses and to destinations like the playhouse and the Mission,” Brough said. “With every new interchange, traffic flow has been increased in the city of San Juan Capistrano; we often come off the freeway to go home to Dana Point, and it’s a lot easier to cut down Del Obispo now than it was previously.”

Brough encouraged attendees to stay awhile in San Juan and help in the economic recovery that city officials are hoping for. During the two and a half years of construction, local businesses took a hit as more commuters chose to skip over the Ortega Highway exit.

“Finally, I would like to welcome you to not rush away immediately from this,” Brough said at the end of his speech. “There are a lot of good restaurants and shops here in San Juan Capistrano; spend some time down here.”

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I-5/Ortega Highway Interchange Funding Sources:

State Transportation Improvement Program: $42.7 million

Corridor Mobility Improvement Act: $24.1 million

Regional Improvement Program: $2.8 million

Measure M sales tax: $2.5 million

County of Orange: $3.2 million

City of San Juan Capistrano: $1.8 million

Total Project Cost: $77.2 million

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comments (1)

  • Is anybody else curious to know WHO decided to pick the people shown in the group photo…..?

    It’s also interesting that you can be a “community member” without being a community resident.

    There’s just something unsettling about all of it.

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