Widening Work Begins on Crowded El Toro ‘Y’ : Freeways: The $105-million project will widen Interstate 5 between El Toro Road and Alton Parkway. When completed in 1996, the interchange will handle an additional 100,000 vehicles.


Caltrans has started the long-awaited widening and remodeling of the El Toro “Y” interchange, which will handle 400,000 vehicles daily when completed in the summer of 1996--100,000 more than it handles today, officials for the agency announced Tuesday.

The $105-million project, which will widen Interstate 5 between El Toro Road and Alton Parkway, a distance of about four miles, will be completed with funds from Measure M, the half-cent tax approved by county voters in 1990. When completed, it will feature, among other things, the world’s widest interchange, with 26 lanes.

There will also be five new bridges; new entry and exit ramps at Bake Parkway; center car-pool lanes that will allow motorists to transfer between the San Diego and Santa Ana freeways; and lanes for merging into traffic and preparing to exit the freeway, officials said.


These lanes, on the right side of the freeways, will help southbound motorists on their way to Bake Parkway or Lake Forest Drive avoid the convergence of the San Diego and Santa Ana freeways.

At a briefing in Orange on Tuesday morning, officials for the state Department of Transportation and the Orange County Transportation Authority delineated the project step-by-step. Divided into six phases, the work, which started on Nov. 29, will change the landscape of the area around the El Toro Y freeway convergence and ultimately help smooth traffic flow, they said.

Saeid Asgari, senior resident engineer for Caltrans, said crews will keep motorists’ inconvenience to a minimum.

“We will try to maintain all the lanes open during the construction,” he said, adding that crews are placing wooden partitions between the southbound and northbound lanes on Interstate 5 to prevent gawkers from slowing down traffic and to protect construction workers.

“We will be maintaining the operations without interrupting the flow of traffic,” Asgari said. What is more, he added, “we’ve placed the partitions to take the visual effect of the construction away from the motorists. We’ve placed a lot of caring into this.”

He said the recent early closures of Interstate 5 have been necessary to clear the area for road work. A few more closures are scheduled in the near future for the same reason, he said. Caltrans and OCTA officials said they will inform the public in advance of any work that will require changes in the daily traffic routine around the area.

The infamous El Toro Y, at the southeastern corner of Irvine, has for years been a problem for motorists, who have contended with bottleneck traffic during morning and evening rush hours and during busy holiday weekends.

The cost of the El Toro Y project, once estimated at nearly $150 million, was lowered through the use of less-expensive engineering and construction methods, lower real estate costs, and avoiding superfluous road and bridge features, said Sam A. Hout, OCTA’s project manager.

However, Hout stressed that quality in the workmanship, materials and engineering used in the project will be high.

Asgari said that barring rain delays or other unforeseen setbacks, the project will be completed by June, 1996. Other work south of the convergence on Interstate 5, considered part of the project and which will cost at least another $100 million, will continue, he said.

Landscaping and other finishing touches at the El Toro Y will be completed by January, 1997, Asgari said.

During a tour of the construction project Tuesday, Caltrans and OCTA officials noted the areas that will undergo major changes. Bake Parkway, for example, will become the Bake Parkway Interchange, featuring a wide six-lane bridge that will tower above Interstate 5 and the collector-distributor lanes that will allow motorists to reach the San Diego Freeway without encountering Interstate 5 traffic.

‘Y’ Widening Reconstruction of the El Toro ‘Y’ will be done in six stages over 2 1/2 years. The project was funded primarily by funds from Measure M, the half-cent sales tax approved in 1990. Stage 1 Work dates: present-September, 1994 Construction highlights: Car-pool lanes, El Toro Road to just south of Bake Parkway; Bake Parkway connection to northbound Interstate 5 via collector lanes. Stage 2 Work dates: September, 1994-March, 1995 Construction highlights: Completion of Bake Parkway ramps and collector lanes to make interchange operational. Stage 3 Work dates: March-August, 1995 Construction highlights: Southbound Alton Parkway on-ramp; northbound Lake Forest Drive off-ramp; reconfiguration of westbound Lake Forest Drive on-ramp to northbound Interstate 5. Stage 4 Work dates: August-October, 1995 Construction highlights: Reconfiguration of southbound Lake Forest Drive off-ramp and northbound El Toro Road on-ramp Stage 5 Work dates: October-November, 1995 Construction highlights: Widening southbound Interstate 5 between El Toro Road and Lake Forest Drive; reconfiguration of southbound El Toro Road off-ramp Stage 6 Work dates: November, 1995-June, 1996 Construction highlights: Modification of San Diego Freeway car-pool lanes; car-pool connector bridge between the San Diego and Santa Ana freeways. Ramp Closures Both short- and long-term freeway ramp closures will occur for the duration of the construction. Exact dates are not yet available, but any closures lasting longer than eight hours will be posted 15 days in advance. The order in which ramp closures will take place: Stage 1: Southbound San Diego Freeway Irvine Center Drive on-ramp. Stage 2: Northbound San Diego Freeway Irvine Center Drive off-ramp. Stage 3: Eastbound Lake Forest Drive on-ramp to northbound Interstate 5 permanently closed; westbound Lake Forest Drive on-ramp to northbound Interstate 5; southbound Interstate 5 Alton Parkway on-ramp; northbound Interstate 5 Lake Forest Drive off-ramp. Stage 4: Northbound Interstate 5 El Toro Road on-ramp; southbound Lake Forest Drive on- and off-ramps. Stage 5: Southbound Interstate 5 El Toro Road off- and on-ramps. ‘Y’ Facts * About 300,000 vehicles use it every day * Average speed during rush hours (7-10 a.m. and 4-7 p.m.) is 20 m.p.h. * Traveling through the Y adds about 10 minutes to the average north-south commute * When completed, widest point will have 26 lanes at various levels Source: Caltrans, Orange County Transportation Authority