SR-163/Friars Road Interchange Project Underway in San Diego
The Demands of Development: Caltrans Reconstructs SR-163/Friars Road Interchange to Relieve Increasing Traffic Volumes Due to Extensive Area Growth
The Friars Road interchange in San Diego was completed in 1970, when State Route 163 was widened from four to eight lanes between Interstate 8 and Genesee Avenue. The interchange was built to accommodate increased traffic in what was clearly a growing area. Over time, however, extensive residential and commercial development along the corridor has outdistanced the interchange's capability to handle the ever-expanding volume of traffic. The traffic demand on southbound SR-163 at Friars Road (and along I-8) is further aggravated by activities at the area's Fashion Valley Mall and SDCCU Stadium; during peak traffic times, there are significant traffic delays, made worse by weaving conditions along the route.
Now underway after years of planning and delays is a major City of San Diego project, administered by California’s Department of Transportation (Caltrans), designed to improve traffic congestion issues and provide safer travel pedestrian and bicycle traffic in the area. The first phase of the SR-163/Friars Road Interchange Project is scheduled to be completed later this year.
As Caltrans Project Manager Charles Gray explains, “There have been major commercial and residential developments completed since 1970 near the interchange – Fashion Valley Center in the southwest quadrant, Hazard Center in the southeast quadrant, Friars-Mission Center in the northeast quadrant, and several high-density residential facilities along Friars Road. Increased traffic generated by these developments and growth in the Linda Vista community, which is served by Ulric Street, led to the plan for improvements to the SR-163/Friars Road interchange.”
SR-163 runs from downtown San Diego just south of an interchange with Interstate 5, extending north through historic Balboa Park and various neighborhoods of San Diego to an interchange with Interstate 15. The section of freeway through Balboa Park south of Interstate 8 was the first freeway in San Diego County and one of the first in California.
Phase 1 Currently Under Construction
The SR-163/Friars Road Interchange Projectis to be completed in three phases, although only Phase 1 is currently funded and under construction. Phase 1 of the project is funded 100 percent by the City of San Diego. In this phase, construction includes widening the SR-163 Friars Road overcrossing from three to four lanes in each direction and improvements to the SR-163 on- and off-ramps and on Frazee Road.
This phase will also construct a southbound SR-163 auxiliary lane just north of Friars Road. Improvements for bicyclists and pedestrians in this phase include providing a bike lane and sidewalks on both eastbound and westbound Friars Road in addition to on-and off-ramp modifications to eliminate the “free right” moves.
When Phase 1 is complete motorists traveling on westbound Friars Road will have two options to access southbound SR-163. Motorists in the far-right lane will continue to Ulric Street and then make a right turn to the freeway on-ramp. Motorists will also be able to access southbound SR-163 via two new dedicated lane left turn lanes from westbound Friars Road.
The completed project will provide westbound Friars Road motorists with a second freeway entrance option, and weaving maneuvers located directly below the Friars Road overcrossing will be reduced. Additionally, weaving along southbound SR-163 between Friars Road and Interstate 8 will also be reduced.
Northbound SR-163 motorists seeking eastbound Friars Road will no longer take the existing exit ramp located in the southeast quadrant of the interchange. The existing exit ramp located in the southeast quadrant will be permanently closed. Instead, northbound SR-163 motorists seeking eastbound Friars Road will utilize new left turn lanes along the exit ramp located in the northeast quadrant. Implementation of the new left turn lanes will eliminate the major unrestricted weave for traffic exiting the freeway from northbound SR-163 destined for northbound Frazee Road.
“The new left turn laneswill also eliminate the unrestricted merge condition for traffic exiting the freeway from northbound SR-163 destined for eastbound Friars Road,” Gray reports.
Caltrans is administering the construction contract and Dokken Engineering, headquartered in Folsom, California, designed the project. Phase 1 construction cost is estimated at $41.2 million, including $23 million from TransNet funds (generated by a half-cent tax for local transportation projects) allocated by the San Diego Association of Governments regional planning agency; $16 million from impact fees that developers have had to pay in order to build the developments already in place along the route; and additional funding for subdividers and private sources.November is the target roadway completion date for Phase 1.
Environmental Analysis, Funding Issues Cause Long Delays
By the late 1980s, as growth accelerated around the SR-163/Friars Road area, plans were under consideration for upgrading the interchange, says Gray. “Project Study Reports (PSRs) were prepared by Caltrans in 1988 to investigate potential improvements to the SR-163/Friars Road interchange. A Draft Project Report (DPR) was prepared in November 1997; however, progress on this document was stopped due to lack of funding.”
The project, initially planned about 14 years ago, was delayed by a thorough environmental analysis completed in 2010. The city then struggled to reach deals with 11 property owners who control land needed to make way for the upgrades.
When project studies resumed, a Project Report was approved in November 2010. The report included improvements to the Friars Road interchange and to State Route 163. Construction of Phase 1 got underway in 2017.
Ramp Relocation, Ramp Closings Part of Project
One component of the Phase 1 work is the permanent closing of the Friars Road to SR-163 on-ramp. The right turn on-ramp from westbound Friars Road to southbound SR-163 has been shut down as part of the interchange project, to allow widening of the freeway overpass east of Fashion Valley Mall. As Gray explains, “The southbound SR-163 entrance ramp from westbound Friars Road was moved a very short distance to Ulric Street. When the project is complete there will be two access points to the freeway from westbound Friars Road.”
Permanent closing of the northbound SR-163 ramp to eastbound Friars Road is scheduled for this coming August.
A mix of communication strategies have been utilized to provide updates on the project. Standard mail post cards have been sent to local residents and businesses to keep them informed of public meetings, loud night work, and extended closures. Caltrans has also produced SR-163/Friars Road newsletters, press releases, and social media messages on Facebook and Twitter.
Future Project Phases
Construction of Phases 2 and 3 of the SR-163/Friars Road Interchange Project will not begin until funding becomes available. Phase 2 is to include the construction of a new collector ramp from southbound SR-163 to westbound Interstate 8 and a new flyover entrance ramp from Ulric Street to southbound SR-163 to reduce weaving. Major components of Phase 3 will be the construction of two southbound SR-163 auxiliary lanes from Genesee Avenue to Friars Road, and of a northbound SR-163 auxiliary lane for motorists entering the freeway from Friars Road. Total construction cost of these two phases is currently projected at $71 million.