Temecula council to seek help to fix I-15 gridlock conditions

Traffic slows to a crawl along northbound I-15 in Rainbow over seven miles south of the Winchester Road off-ramp in Temecula. Northbound I-15 traffic consistently backs up for miles south of Temecula typically between the hours of 3 and 7 p.m. on weekdays. Shane Gibson photos

Temecula officials concede that commuters passing through their city endure “unacceptable” gridlock conditions, and they are now seeking help from the state, area cities, the Pechanga tribe and an array of regional planning agencies.

“It’s not all Temecula traffic. It’s a choke point,” Mayor Maryann Edwards said in a recent telephone interview. “We’ve been doing our part as best we can. But we can’t take care of the entire region.”

It is a problem that impacts a vast area stretching from Menifee and Lake Elsinore on the north to well beyond Bonsall to the south. Residents of the tiny community of Rainbow are especially hard hit, as gridlock conditions on weekday afternoons and evenings jam a popular frontage road that parallels Interstate 15.

Rainbow residents recently focused attention on their growing concerns.

The candid appraisals of current conditions, as well as the prospects of what the future may hold, were brought to the fore by Temecula City Councilman Mike Naggar.

Naggar asked that his colleagues tackle the issue in a recent open session.

During that Sept. 5 discussion, Naggar warned that the area’s flourishing tourism industry might be at risk if visitors must slog through gridlock conditions to reach the wine country, Old Town or the Pechanga Resort & Casino.

While Naggar was mayor last year, he spotlighted the importance of the region’s tourism industry during his State of the City speech. .

In that speech, Naggar noted that tourism revenue had tripled since 2004 and at that time exceeded $651 million a year and employed about 7,000 workers.

He cited the Pechanga complex – which is wrapping up a $285 million expansion – as an indicator of the area’s tourism allure.

Area officials are also concerned that gridlock conditions could cost lives.

Temecula Valley Hospital has become a regional medical hub since it opened in October 2013. The closure of Fallbrook’s community hospital in November 2014 has boosted the flow of residents from that region to Temecula for an expanding menu of hospital services and specialty medical skills.

The congestion that snarls commuters on I-15 has periodically delayed ambulance crews that shuttle back and forth to the hospital from nearby communities.

“The situation on the 15 freeway is terrible,” Naggar said during the brief council discussion. “It’s terrible in each direction at different times, and something needs to be done about it.”

Naggar and city staff called for the formation of a regional task force that would draw on the revenue-raising abilities and lobbying muscles of state and federal officials, area cities, the Pechanga tribe and various regional planning agencies.

Naggar cautioned that he is uncertain if this approach will work. But something must be done, he said.

“We need to get together,” he told his colleagues. “We need to do a lobbying plan, a do-anything plan, a we’re-doing-something plan.”

A city staff report prepared for the council session noted that about 165,000 vehicles a day passed the Rancho California Road ramps on I-15 in 2015. Traffic figures for years prior were not available from city staff after that meeting.

Those gridlock conditions have intensified over the past two years, the report stated, and the future outlook is grim. Northbound traffic is typically bumper-to-bumper from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. on weekdays from state Route 76 in Bonsall to Murrieta and other points further north, according to the staff report.

Caltrans predicts that by 2030 more than 250,000 vehicles will cross the boundary between Riverside and San Diego counties each weekday. The traffic flow at that location will climb to 285,000 vehicles each weekday by 2050, according to Caltrans predictions as cited by Temecula staff.

As noted by Temecula officials, the city has moved aggressively on its interior streets as well as its bridges and freeway ramps to help offset rapid growth.

The nearly 28 years since Temecula became a city has seen its population surge from 27,099 to about 110,000. Its employment base has roughly quadrupled during that period to about 45,000 jobs today.

The number of traffic signals within the 30-square mile city steadily climbed from three to about 130. Student enrollment in the sprawling Temecula school district has also mushroomed.

The area’s rapid growth combined with state delays in funding key improvements forced Temecula to begin planning freeway-related projects from the start.

Over a 15-year period following incorporation, Temecula spent an estimated $87 million on work that included widening its freeway bridges and ramps at Winchester and Rancho California roads and constructing a new bridge that spans I-15 at Overland Drive.

Much of that work was financed by developer fees and a countywide sales tax increase that voters repeatedly approved for regional transportation improvements.

As Temecula has grown, similar population surges have occurred in Murrieta, Menifee, French Valley and Lake Elsinore. Traffic improvements have kept pace in some of those communities but have lagged in others.

In April 2014, the city took a $28 million bite out of the Temecula tangle by opening the initial phase of the Temecula Valley interchange. That project was the first of its kind to be built in western Riverside County in years. It bumped Temecula’s spending output beyond $100 million.

In passing that mark, city officials said they feel compelled to improve traffic safety and ease congestion in a crucial corridor that falls under the jurisdiction and funding responsibility of state and federal agencies.

That first phase, which resulted in the creation of the French Valley exit, Exit No. 62, was seen as a relief valve for long lines of vehicles that formed as southbound drivers queued up to exit I-15 at Winchester Road. Southbound motorists often backed up to Murrieta, and driving was unnerving because I-15 merges with Interstate 215 in that area and drivers frequently jockeyed to exit or continue onto another exit.

But city officials warn that it will cost another $172 million to complete the futuristic new interchange along Temecula’s border with Murrieta.

The final phase will create new ramps on the east side of I-15 and weave together 11 bridges that span the freeway and various creeks and existing roads in the area.

The source of the needed funding is unknown, especially since the state several years ago withdrew a $32 million commitment to the bridge construction and ramp widening project.

The soon-to-be-created task force will lobby for the restoration of those funds and the commitment of additional revenues for that work, city officials said. It will also study ways to add new freeway traffic lanes throughout the corridor.

“In the past, the big cities get the (state and federal) money and we’ve been left to our own devices,” Edwards said.

Work recently began on a $51 million project that is aimed at unplugging Temecula’s southern-most bottleneck.

That start – which included razing a gas station, car wash and convenience store –marked another chapter in Temecula’s push to unravel knotted freeway ramps that serve the city’s southern corridor. Those ramps at Temecula Parkway access the Pechanga casino and thousands of homes and businesses on the city’s south side.

City officials said it is unknown how long it will take to enlist the involvement of all the hoped-for participants in the I-15 regional task force. Given the scheduling slowdown that often grips government agencies in the year-end holiday period, city officials said the group’s first meeting may not occur until early 2018.

City officials said they will seek the public’s involvement in order to build momentum and maximize the region’s ability to win scarce funding.

“Let’s get it moving,” Councilman Matt Rahn declared as the recent discussion wound down.

12 Responses to "Temecula council to seek help to fix I-15 gridlock conditions"

  1. grunt   September 29, 2017 at 8:03 am

    May I suggest a two lane by pass that goes from south of Bonsall to just North of Menifee? No access between. This way traffic not stopping local is moved to the by pass; local traffic will reduce along the existing route and the by pass will handle traffic not merging – changing lanes to get on and off.

  2. Dgh   September 29, 2017 at 12:54 pm

    The south bound ramp really does not provide any relief. It’s the north bound that needs the work. It’s take me an additional hour of travel time going north bound. Basically, twice as long to go north bound.

  3. Maryann Edwards, Temecula Mayor   September 29, 2017 at 12:58 pm

    To “Grunt” – Excellent idea! You’ve described the design and purpose of French Valley Parkway which accomplishes your stated goal – but for the much shorter distance from Winchester to I-215.
    Cars entering I-15N at Winchester will have the option of using two access lanes (completely separate from I-15) that will funnel traffic directly to the I-215 at freeway speed with no exits or stopping. Just as you suggested, this design will help to alleviate the battle for lanes between northbound I-15 drivers and those headed to I-215.
    Your idea to provide relief from Bonsall to Menifee is sound. While Temecula has taken on the state’s responsibility to provide adequate freeway traffic circulation within our jurisdiction, I’m positive that the task force will recommend the same fix you described. Simply put, when more cars are using our freeways, more lanes are needed to keep traffic moving in the right direction. Such an easy concept. . .

  4. Temecula resident   September 29, 2017 at 9:50 pm

    While ur at it. How about starting by continuing the HOV lane from Escondido to Corona.

    Also, how about public metro, bullet train, el train, other, from San Diego to Corona.

  5. Dan Grilley   September 30, 2017 at 12:58 pm

    I’m not too convinced the issue can be equality addressed through ramps. Even though the growth of Temecula and Murrieta have slown significantly other areas such as Elsinore, Menifee, Hemet and Fallbrook are still growing quickly. With the growth causing more traffic commuting South on I-15 in the morning and North in the evening there really doesn’t seem to be any solution other than to create alternate routes. The fix to the Winchester off-ramp has helped tremendously with local traffic exiting the freeway and I’m confident the new off-ramp will do the same for South Temecula, but it won’t do much to help the freeway situation. We simply don’t have nearly enough lanes for the number of people commuting. Either we need more lanes or a way to convince less people to commute for work such as higher paying local jobs. As stated by dgh it takes an hour to get from highway 76 to Winchester road from 2pm to 8pm and 15 minutes any other time of day and I only see this number continuing to increase as surrounding area communities grow.

  6. Ken   September 30, 2017 at 2:09 pm

    It’s not just Temecula’s problem. It’s Fallbrook’s as well. Just try and get to the Temecula Hospital from about 4:00PM to 6:30. Hope you don’t have an emergency. Now that our great leaders of the ” Health Care District (?)” have closed our hospital if you have a heart attack or a stroke your chances are not too good to make it to Temecula for treatment. If a patient with a stroke can make it to a hospital within about 30 minutes the results of the stroke can be minimized. Obviously the sooner you can receive care for a heart attack your chances of survival are much improved. Of course these time factors apply to many other emergency conditions as well.

    With the traffic toward Temecula in the afternoon and toward Escondido in the morning you can forget a rapid transport in a private vehicle or an emergency unit.

  7. Carole   September 30, 2017 at 2:59 pm

    I live in Rainbow and after 3:00 we cannot go north to dinner, shopping, appointments, etc. We cannot even get across the 395. There are numerous accidents at our intersection. Traffic backs up on the 395 at the 76 and the gridlock of the entire corridor determines and restricts our daily activities. It has become so intolerable, it has affected our quality of life.

  8. Larry   September 30, 2017 at 4:07 pm

    It seems to me that the time to address the traffic issue was twenty-five years ago when subdivision after subdivision was approved. The problems now are a result of unchecked growth that has affected the quality of life throughout the area including Fallbrook. Just look at East Mission to I-15 or South Mission to Bonsall any morning or afternoon. Those are not Fallbrook residents for the most part.

  9. Jodi   October 2, 2017 at 3:07 pm

    I live on one of the parallel roads to the 15 in Rainbow and I can tell you that the overflow of drivers choosing our windy narrow road as an alternate freeway is perilous. It’s a 20 mph speed limit that goes ignored and no one can stay on their side of the road at the speeds they are driving. Trucks and busses that are too big to make the turns in their own lane are racing up the road. I’ve personally been nearly run off the road weekly and we only have hillside to one side and deep ravines to the other. It’s extremely dangerous! I see cars run off the road, side swipes and even roll over accidents on my street every month. This can’t wait to be addressed until some sort of expansion is devised.

  10. Dave   October 2, 2017 at 3:26 pm

    I’ve been commuting 50 miles round trip from Temecula to the Mira Mesa/Sorrento Valley area since 2005 and I’ve seen it become progressively worse every year.

    I used to spend 2 hours/day on the roads and highways, now it’s easily 3 and sometimes 4 hours/day.

    I attribute the daily clogs on the 15 to:
    1. The massive amount of new “affordable” homes built and the people who move into them.
    2. The massive amount of tourist attractions built year after year (growing casinos, endless wineries, etc.).
    3. Temecula lacks many professional jobs — especially in the tech industry (which I am a part of). Hence the reason I have to drive to/from the Qualcomm campus every day. There’s nothing comparable in Temecula.

  11. Harvestonian   October 3, 2017 at 6:23 am

    I attribute the congestion mostly to all the developments built along the I-215 corridor. They can either head for L.A, Orange County or Riverside for jobs to the north, or San Diego County for jobs to the south. Other than distribution centers, there are really not many jobs/employers nearby. The Temecula-Murrieta area only has the Promenade Mall, Pechanga and Abbott as major employers, so most folks from here drive south.

  12. FallbrookDweller   October 6, 2017 at 1:19 am

    It’s all about jobs and costs of living. There are too few good jobs in Temecula/Murrieta area and cost of housing in San Diego area is extremely high compared to Riverside County, so you have a excess of daily commuters from Temecula/Riverside to the San Diego area in the morning and returning home in the evening. Until real industry along with well-paying jobs moves into the Southern Riverside area things will not change. I once got stuck for over a hour and half getting to Temecula from Fallbrook, now I avoid going North on the 15 on Fridays like the plague.


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