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New Ortega Interchange to Include Major Road Closures

Caltrans representatives presented their construction plans Wednesday morning to the San Juan Capistrano Chamber of Commerce.

Caltrans representatives unveiled Wednesday the construction phases for the new 5 freeway and Ortega Highway interchange, a $84-million project that will be built between the winter of 2012 and spring of 2015.

The first phase of construction will include the closure of Ortega Highway and northbound and southbound on-ramps to the 5 freeway. It is not known at this time, however, when exactly the closures will take place or how long they will last, the Caltrans representatives told Chamber of Commerce members during its morning networking event. 

Matt Cugini, the project manager for Caltrans, said that when a construction company is selected, it will sign a contract with incentives to expediently complete the project.

“He’ll have a certain period of time once [the contractor] shuts down [the street] to reopen it. If he gets it done any sooner, he gets a bonus. If he takes a longer amount of time, he has to pay us," said Cugini. "He’d be working 24/7 because he wants to make his bonus."

Although the realignment of Del Obispo and reconfiguration of on- and off-ramps at Ortega Highway has been in the works for years now, this is the first time Caltrans has unveiled the construction phases.

“I was on the Transportation Commission, and I’ve been working this for years, but I had never seen the sequencing. That’s a real balancing act,” said City Council member Larry Kramer. “It’s going to have a significant impact on the city, but it has to be done.”

The first phase of construction entails rebuilding the Ortega Highway overpass, first demolishing the south side of the bridge and diverting traffic to two lanes on the north side. It also includes widening the overpass and diverting traffic to southbound lanes and building the first portions of the realigned Del Obispo and a new loop-shaped northbound on-ramp.

During this first phase, the southbound on-ramp will be closed temporarily so it can be raised 4 feet; the existing northbound on-ramp will be closed to allow for construction of the new one; and Ortega Highway will be closed to traffic to complete the reconstruction of the overpass.

While the closure of Ortega Highway will clearly impact San Juan residents, there were some concerns expressed by Kramer and some business owners about the ability of Plaza Banderas developers to build their hotel amid the construction. The hotel plans have yet to be finalized, so there's no timeline for their construction, and the City Council on Tuesday night decided to delay its vote on a development agreement required for the project to go forward.

In the second phase, travelers will be able to drive on the new Del Obispo alignment—which will eliminate the left-hand turn off Ortega Highway—while work continues on the northbound on-ramp.

A precise timeline for when all of these phases will happen won't be nailed down until a contractor is hired, said Cugini. "We probably won't have it down to a month until we actually get a contractor on board," he said. "We'll have a duration, but [the contractor] will have to develop his own schedule, and we will have to approve that schedule."

Kramer said he learned something else new Wednesday: the amount of money that will be spent on property acquisitions. CalTrans has set aside $28 million to buy the land it needs to complete the interchange project.

Businesses that will be demolished include the Chevron gas stations on the east and west sides of Ortega, Arby's and Jack in the Box.

"The appraisal part of it is going on right now. The businesses have been contacted by our appraisers," he said.

Editor's Note: This version of the article clarifies an earlier edition about Kramer's thoughts on property acquisitions.

smoothpuss2 March 02, 2011 at 09:59 PM
Interesting, Kramer states he was on the Transportation Commission for years and is now just learning that Chevron, Arby's and Jack in the Box will be going. Selective memory is in high gear.
Jenna Chandler March 02, 2011 at 10:07 PM
Smoothpuss2, Kramer is referring to the dollar value of the property acquisitions, not the actual businesses that are being acquired.
smoothpuss2 March 02, 2011 at 11:37 PM
Thank you Jenna for the clarification.
Alberto Barrera March 03, 2011 at 12:21 AM
Does anyone know whats going on at the intersection of La Pata and Ortega Highway? I heard it was retail but I never saw the plans for it.
rick lyons March 11, 2011 at 05:17 AM
Alberto, check with Rancho Mission Viejo for the plans.
Lyda Cooper January 26, 2012 at 08:38 AM
This should be interesting for us residents trying in get in and out of town especially when they have the Camino Capistrano/San Juan Creek Rd area and on and off ramps torn up and extremely difficult to navigate. Why can't they at least wait until that project is completed? I have lived here for 40 years and am distressed at the changes this town has been undergoing. We have our various city council members throughout the years to thank for this.
Thre Grandmazoo December 06, 2012 at 01:06 AM
There are 5 schools on El Camino Real, it is crazy enough with the usual traffic, now they are going to add to the craziness...The Mission and the churches located on the same street add to the confusion! I'm thingking I need to move!

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