The numbers are staggering.
The Temecula Valley’s main artery for tourists, commerce and commuting — the stretch of Interstate 15 that runs from Murrieta to the San Diego County border — is overtaxed, operating at levels that are unacceptable for both area residents and engineers. And it’s going to get a lot worse before it gets better.
In 2016, the average annual daily traffic count for the segment that runs from the border to Pechanga Parkway was 145,000 motorists. In 2035, the number could hit 252,000 — more than 100,000 additional cars on the road and nowhere to put them
“We can’t have this gridlock on this freeway,” said Temecula Councilman Mike Naggar on Nov. 30, addressing an assemblage of leaders that included Pechanga officials, mayors of the region’s cities and public works department heads.
The big fear, he said, was that constant congestion on the I-15 could add precious minutes to already-long commutes for people who work in San Diego County and harm the area’s tourism economy.
“We’re worried it’s only as good as people’s ability to get here,” he said.
Naggar, working with Mayor Pro Tem Matt Rahn and city staff, put together the meeting to harness the unified power of the Pechanga and area cities, who all stand to benefit from reduced traffic flows on the “choke point” segment of the I-15 in Temecula.
If the region’s leaders speak with a unified, “loud” voice they may be heard in Sacramento and Washington D.C., Naggar said, adding that they may need to follow that up with trips to the power centers to lobby for relief in person.
The main problem right now is the pecking order for transportation dollars that could be used to add lanes and connect the corridor with the HOV systems in San Diego County and Orange County, which has the Temecula corridor on the “tail end” of upgrade plans, said Pat Thomas, Temecula’s public works director.
Unless the list is updated — or leaders develop a novel workaround — the area won’t be able to handle the increase in traffic projected for the next 20 years and the scheduled improvements, by the time they are built, may be insufficient.
“I think that’s the big takeaway,” said Wildomar Assistant Manager Dan York, a former Temecula city engineer.
Neil Winter, mayor of Menifee, said more than 80 percent of his residents commute outside of the city for work, with the majority of that number headed to neighboring counties.
If there were more six-figure jobs here, he argued, those residents wouldn’t have to drive an hour or more to work and the region’s freeways would work as intended.
“That’s what stops the traffic flow,” he said.