Construction will close the Interstate 5 Freeway down to only one lane southbound starting at 10 p.m. Friday, and some lanes will remain closed until 12 noon Saturday in south Orange County.
Pro tip for dealing with the construction: Stay away if at all possible.
"We really encourage drivers to avoid the area during this time," Orange County Transportation Authority spokesperson Joel Zlotnik told KPCC. "When you're narrowing a freeway down from four lanes to one, it can create a significant backup, and if you don't have to be on the freeway in this area at this time, it would be best to just avoid it."
The three southbound I-5 lanes will be closed between Avenida Vista Hermosa and Avenida Palizada. Two southbound lanes will reopen at 8:30 a.m. Saturday before the full reopening.
A series of interlocking construction needs are responsible for the closure, Zlotnik said. That includes building a bridge one half at a time.
"We do it one section at a time, because we can't shut down the freeway 24 hours a day," Zlotnik said. "During this period, crews are going to be grinding pavement, laying new pavement, and re-striping the southbound lanes and the adjacent ramps, so that traffic can transition to the newly constructed bridge."
That means building a bridge while it's still operating, including having all eight lanes of the freeway — four in each direction — on one side of the freeway during construction. Now, this closure is moving the southbound traffic onto the new bridge — a freeway overpass that goes over Avenida Pico, the street below.
"The southbound lanes were going one place, and we're moving them to another place, so it's creating that new transition to the new lanes," Zlotnik said.
This portion of the 5 goes through one of the most congested parts of Orange County, especially on weekends, Zlotnik said.
"People [will be] traveling from Los Angeles, from Orange County, heading to San Diego, and summertime in particular is really bad. So one of the main reasons for the congestion is you have a carpool lane now that ends in San Juan Capistrano, and you have five lanes merging down to four lanes. So you just have too many cars, and then when you have that lane drop-off, it creates additional congestion, because you have the cars merging from five lanes into four," Zlotnik said.
To help alleviate that, the construction includes extending the carpool lane an extra six miles.
Zlotnik explained everything that interlocks in this construction.
"We're in the process of adding a carpool lane through a six-mile stretch from San Juan Capistrano to San Clemente, and we're also rebuilding the Avenida Pico interchange in San Clemente. So in order to rebuild the interchange, we are widening the Avenida Pico Bridge, and what we've done is constructed one side of the bridge, and we're moving traffic from the existing freeway onto the newly constructed bridge. So we need to shut down the freeway and switch the traffic pattern from where it is currently to the new bridge," Zlotnik said.
The results, Zlotnik said, include:
- Widening the bridge
- Improving on- and off-ramps
- Improving access to the street below the bridge.
It's part of a $230 million project, funded in part by Orange County's Measure M, a half-cent sales tax for transportation. The project began in 2014 and is expected to be completed in 2018.
"This is one of the major milestones in the project, is completing this half of the bridge, and then all of the traffic will be moved over to this side of the bridge in about a month. So you'll have the southbound lanes and the northbound lanes going on the newly constructed bridge. The next step is tearing down the other half of the Avenida Pico bridge and reconstructing that," Zlotnik said.
If you need to head south to San Diego during the closure, Zlotnik recommended two alternatives:
- The Amtrak Pacific Surfliner
- Metrolink trains
They're also closing the southbound on-ramps at Avenida Vista Hermosa and Avenida Pico, as well as southbound off-ramps at Avenida Pico and Avenida Palizada.