Anyone Wanting a Faster Commute Say ‘Aye!'

Did you get to work faster this morning? The just-completed express lanes on Interstate 15 are open to traffic as of Monday.

Transportation officials celebrated the completion of a 3.5-mile stretch of express lanes from Rancho Bernardo to Escondido March 10.

Caltrans is expanding the highway in phases. A 4.5-mile segment opened in September 2008. The newly-finished section is now open to traffic as of  March 16. The next two sections heading north from Escondido to Highway 78 and south from Escondido to Mira Mesa should be complete by 2011 and 2012 respectively.

In all, 20 miles of express lanes will help commuters get from the North County to Downtown. Something Escondido Mayor Lori Pfiler thinks will help her community grow.

"I think that Escondido has a strategic advantage because you can get to San Diego pretty efficiently and we can draw businesses up to the North County part of the region, where a lot of employees actually live," said Pfiler.

"We promised voters that if you voted for a half cent sales tax, we'll improve the transportation system in San Diego County and we are," Pfiler said.

Funding for the $1.3 billion project comes from local dollars as well as Prop 1B money. When asked if the money is secure, Caltrans Director Will Kempton said he's confident the expansion will proceed on pace and keep 24,000 people employed – a priority for Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

“We're having a little bit of difficulty in terms of California’s ability to sell bonds so bond dollars are hung up a bit but obviously when the economy improves those dollars will start flowing again,” said Kempton.

“There's been a little bit of a hiccup, but we're still going to keep moving. This is vitally important to the region, and it creates jobs," he said.

“We have the dollars set aside for this,” he said while admitting that at the same time, the state is anxious to take advantage of the federal stimulus money headed our way.

Commuters on busses should see a faster ride in to work as well, according to Caltrans. "MTS Routes 810, 820, 850 and 860 riders can expect a hassle-free ride to and from downtown San Diego," according to a Caltrans newsletter.

For FasTrak users, the new lanes will change how they're charged for using the express lanes. Customers will pay a toll based on the distance they travel. Every few minutes, the system will recalculate the per-mile toll based on thte level of traffic, according to Caltrans.

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