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Caltrans activates meters along Hwy 78 to relieve congestion

Caltrans began activating meters on eastbound Hwy 78 last week for the morning commute. Affected locations are Civic Center Drive, Mar Vista Drive and Sycamore Avenue in Vista.

A total of 22 on-ramps will be activated in groups of three through August to help reduce the duration and extent of congestion on the freeway. Ramp metering at the new locations will take place on eastbound Hwy 78 from 5:30-9:30 a.m. and on westbound SR-78 from 3-7 p.m. Eastbound SR-78 5:30-9:30 a.m. ramp meter activation is as follows: • Tuesday, June 28: Emerald Drive and Vista Village Drive in Vista. • Wednesday, July 6: Jefferson Street and Plaza Drive in Oceanside. • Tuesday July 12: Twin Oaks Valley Road, Barham Drive/Woodland Parkway and Nordahl Road in San Marcos. • Tuesday, July 19: Rancho Santa Fe Road, Las Posas Road/Grand Avenue and San Marcos Boulevard in San Marcos. Westbound SR-78 3-7 p.m. ramp meter activation is as follows: • Tuesday, July 26: Mar Vista Drive, Civic Center Drive and Vista Village Drive in Vista. • Tuesday, Aug. 2: W. Vista Way, Emerald Drive, northbound College Avenue in Oceanside. • Tuesday Aug. 9: southbound College Boulevard, El Camino Real and Jefferson Street in Oceanside.

Warning signs were placed prior to activation to alert motorists about the change.

How did Caltrans know that it was time to expand the sensors’ range? According to Cathryne Bruce-Johnson, Caltrans public information officer: “There are sensors in the roadway that allows Caltrans to monitor the speed and the congestion. Caltrans is able to monitor the speeds and pull up the data to see what the traffic patterns are and the location. By collecting that data it allows us to look at the capacity the highway is able to carry at that time. It’s important to do what we can to manage those traffic volumes so that traffic enters the highway at such a rate to keep the traffic flowing at those lanes.

Before these new meter activation times the eastbound on ramps between I-15 and I-5 were activated on weekday afternoons from 3-7 p.m. Now they will be activated in the morning as well. The westbound freeway sensors had been activated mornings only and are now is being activated n the afternoon. All of the on-ramps from I-5- to I-15 will be activated during peak hours.

If there is a slow traffic day and the traffic volumes do not reach the threshold within the activation window the meter will NOT turn on. “They are activated by window time but also traffic volume, along the corridor. There is an automated system but it is monitored and tweaked as needed,” said Bruce-Johnson. The system is monitored from Caltrans’s San Diego offices. In addition, traffic engineers eyeball the traffic in person and compare it to the data they receive electronically. The system takes accidents along the highway into account as well.

Although it may seem counterintuitive, the goal of ramp meters is to increase the efficiency of the entire freeway corridor by shortening peak commute periods, increasing speeds and reducing collisions. Although as a motorist you might be pounding your steering wheel in frustration at having to wait at the on-ramp, Caltrans points out it could end up being much worse without the meters.

For more information, contact the Caltrans Public Information Office at 619-688-6670.

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