Transit Talking Points by: Nicholas Ventrone, Community Engagement Director
During the weekend of January 22, Mother Nature dumped so much rain into Southern California that it contributed to numerous potholes, mudslides and destroyed a section of the Ortega Highway. The two lane mountain road connects Lake Elsinore to San Juan Capistrano and has for decades served as a major link for commuters. Because of the storms, Highway 74 is shut down to through traffic with the damaged section just east of Gibby Road in Orange County.
While verified local traffic is permitted to enter while repairs are being done, the vast majority of rush hour traffic passes through via the Ortega Highway. With the mountain pass no longer a through routing option until who knows when (reports are saying, "weeks"), Caltrans has directed motorists to detour via the 91 Corona Crawl or Highway 76 from Oceanside. Although both of these routes are alternatives, they are far from being good ones simply because both are already congested commuter corridors.
Last Thursday's afternoon rush hour tells the truth. All I can say is that if you're commuting by car out of Orange County and back toward Lake Elsinore during peak congestion, good luck. The 91/55 corridor was backed up beyond the Irvine Business Complex through Corona. Even if one takes the 241 toll road, motorists are stopped just past Chapman Avenue. For the southern detour, the 76 was slow-and-go coming out of Oceanside with the I-15 north heavy from the 76 into Murrieta.
One way commute times can span in excess of 2.5 to 3 hours. I mean could you imagine spending 3 hours going in, working 8-10 hours, and another 3 headed home? Factor in another 8 for sleep and the 24 hour cycle has been fully consumed.
Chances are this pattern will continue until Caltrans repairs this section, which must happen soon but still must be done correctly to ensure the road is safe. That's likely why the reopening date is "weeks" away.
While that's happening, the state should provide emergency funding to our transit agencies to expand public transportation and public marketing outreach so that people can get to and from work without having to endure hours of gridlock or being forced to stay overnight in OC.
The detour via Highway 76 and I-15 though Temecula is a tough call for transit alternatives simply because there is zero high occupancy vehicle lane infrastructure in between Oceanside and Lake Elsinore. However, the 91 detour is a great candidate to expand transit. A train and/or bus bridge via the Metrolink IEOC Line from South Perris to Oceanside should be offered on top of a marketing campaign for the existing commuter services. In addition, more resources need to be set a aside for operations to handle the surge of new riders. That will allow commuters the option to use these public HOV's to bypass the stopped traffic either via the rails or the 91 Express Lanes.
If officials did that, that would at least thin out the congested conditions on our freeways to the point where commute times would be acceptable once more while we wait for Caltrans to finish the repair work needed for Ortega Highway.