The North Coast Corridor Plan Puts Millions into Habitat Improvement

Construction is underway for the $700 million first phase of the San Diego’s North Coast Corridor infrastructure improvement plan. Phase one will add new bridges along Interstate 5 across the San Elijo lagoon at Solana Beach and across Batiquitos Lagoon in Carlsbad. The highway improvements also include new carpool lanes, bike paths and improved pedestrian walkways. The project includes plans to improve the wetlands and lagoons around the construction areas.

For instance, railway and highway bridges will be replaced with more modern structures, leaving fewer piers in the water. Fewer piers will increase tidal flow into the lagoons, improving the health of the few wetlands remaining in San Diego County.

North Coast Corridor phases

North Coast Corridor Program is a multi-agency effort that will invest more than $6 billion into infrastructure improvements along the I-5 corridor over the next few decades, including over $250 million to preserve coastal habitat and access. Phase One of the project will also add HOV lanes to I-5, double-track railway lines for more commuter and intercity rail efficiency, add bike paths, increase pedestrian access, erect sound barriers and replace the San Elijo and Batiquitos lagoon highway bridges.

Batiquitos Lagoon Bridge

According to the National Ocean Service, proper tidal circulation can provide nutrients, moderate temperatures and influence the conditions in many ecosystems. Estuaries depend on the currents created by tributary systems, long shore currents, and tidal changes to cycle nutrients and provide a transportation system for certain organisms living in that certain ecosystem. Poor tidal circulation can impact the environment in many negative ways. According to the Batiquitos Lagoon Bridge Optimization Study, poor tidal circulation can impact the environment in many negative ways, including destruction of habitat, interruption of organisms travel routes, potential electromagnetic interference and potential acoustic interference. Removing most of the piers in the water will allow more tidal flow in and out of the lagoons, preventing stagnation and making estuaries more accessible to marine life. The removal of the bridges is expected to improve the health and life of the lagoons.

Described by the North Corridor Environmental mitigation program, The Environmental Mitigation Program (EMP) provides funds through Transient, the half cent sales tax approved by San Diegans through 2044 to fund regional transit projects. EMP’s mission is to protect, preserve, and restore native habitats as offsets to disturbance caused by the construction of regional and local transportation projects. Over the past decade, the $850 million program has helped acquire and/or restore more than 8,600 acres around the region with a total value of about $150 million, in part by leveraging $27 million from conservation partners.

In order to assure the biological health and success of lands conserved as open space throughout the region, land management and biological monitoring is required. Managing and monitoring natural habitats and sensitive species reduces the likelihood that the system will degrade and prevents the need for state or federal listing of new species as threatened or endangered.

Transnet Environmental Mitigation Program Habitat Conservation and Land Management Grants fund innovative studies and projects that help us learn about and protect our region’s unique plant and animal species.

This is an example of a project that has already happened.

The Goal of the project is to prevent stagnentation like so.

The project will also connect these beautiful wetlands to the majestic beaches of the San Diego coast. Anyone living near these lagoons knows there are few paths leading to the beach. Connecting the lagoons to the beach via paths would not only be a boon to hikers and beachgoers, but would allow people to see how the overall ecosystem is connected. The plan calls for bike and hiking paths that lead directly to the ocean.

“I’ve lived here for about 30 years after graduating from UCSD in ’83,” said a local named Zach. “This project will be beneficial to every neighborhood on the east side of the freeway.”

When asked if he worries improved access could result in more crowded beaches, Zach said, “Well, I surf almost every day and prefer to not have a lot of people out at the beach or swimming in the water, but connecting the two would be very beneficial to the surrounding communities.”

Which renovations are you most excited for?

Zach addes that he’s most excited about the pathways that will give pedestrians direct access to the beach and the removal of the piers extending into the lagoons from the freeway bridges. “A healthy environment and easy access to the beach is what most locals want,” said Zach.