LOVR-Highway 101 interchange plan reaches milestone

A $30 million plan to upgrade the Los Osos Valley Road-Highway 101 interchange in San Luis Obispo is a step closer to construction.

Work has been stalled for years as the city worked on requirements handed down by Caltrans, which is technically the lead agency on the project.

However, the city has committed $15 million to finance the design and pay for required studies along the way, on topics including the project’s potential effect on a nearby creek system.

The project’s design is now nearly three-fourths complete, and Caltrans has granted its approval.

The San Luis Obispo City Council will be asked Tuesday to endorse Caltrans’ recent approval of the project report and a document on potential environmental impacts.

“This is a really big milestone to reach,” said Jay Walter, public works director for the city.

The area is known for its bottleneck traffic during peak travel times.

“There are times that cars are backed up onto the shoulder on the highway while trying to exit at Los Osos Valley Road,” Mayor Jan Marx said. “When I see that, I keep going and get off at the Madonna Road exit and go back. I don’t want to be the last car sticking out on the shoulder.”

The interchange upgrade, which would widen the Los Osos Valley Road overpass to four lanes, among other work, has long sparked concern and even prompted a lawsuit against Caltrans by some residents of the Los Verdes Park condominium complex on the north and south sides of Los Osos Valley Road near South Higuera Street.

Walter said some of those concerns have been addressed in the project’s design, such as using an added layer of pavement to help reduce the noise from increased traffic through the area.

Some neighbors have also voiced concerns in the past about the difficulties in making left turns onto Los Osos Valley Road.

Even with the approvals in place, construction isn’t likely to begin until 2015. The state money being used to fund the other half of the project has been put on hold until then.

Walter said the city must also negotiate with two property owners to buy easements needed to widen the road — a small area in front of the Arco gas station and also at the field adjacent to the Los Verdes condominiums.

“The city is doing everything we can to move the interchange project forward,” Marx said. “What we are hoping is that if we have all the planning ready, and the gods are with us, we can perhaps get the state to reconsider their delay and put that funding forward before 2015.”

Reach AnnMarie Cornejo at 781-7939. Stay updated by following @a_cornejo on Twitter.