A horn burst from an earthmover and the launch of blue, orange and white balloons Monday marked the start of a seven-year $132.6-million reconstruction of the county's worst traffic bottleneck: the interchange of the Santa Ana (I-5) and Costa Mesa (55) freeways.
The $19.3 million first stage of the project, which includes adding lanes, rebuilding overpasses and widening the Costa Mesa Freeway from I-5 south to Dyer Road, is scheduled to be completed by August, 1989, according to Caltrans.
Stage two, a similar, $26.9-million expansion of the Costa Mesa Freeway north of I-5 to 17th Street, is scheduled for completion in late 1991 or early 1992.
1994 Completion Date
Stage three--the $86.4-million addition of an elevated, concrete bus and car-pool transit way, sound walls, new freeway connectors, two new general purpose and one ride-sharing lane in each direction on I-5--is expected to be finished by mid-1994.
Construction is scheduled at night, but some ramps will be closed and some traffic will be diverted onto city streets, with advance warning to motorists, according to Caltrans officials.
Reconstruction of the interchange is the most ambitious, complex and costliest highway project here in decades, county officials said.
Caltrans Director Leo J. Trombatore was among the 100 state and local officials and corporate executives involved in transportation issues attending a luncheon in Santa Ana Monday to celebrate the start of the project.
Bruce Nestande, a member of the California Transportation Commission and former county supervisor, praised the project but complained that it took five years to get it started, even though state officials used so-called "fast track" processing of plans and environmental reviews.
"That's a sad state of affair," Nestande said. "Something has to be done to tighten that up. . . . We could be tombstoned before we even finish I-5."
Work is expected to begin in a few days with restriping of lanes and placement of protective concrete barriers along the route.