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El Toro Y Revamp Will Spell Relief for Commuters

Roads: Widening of interchange where San Diego and Santa Ana freeways merge will increase capacity by 100,000 vehicles daily.

March 17, 1997|FRANK MESSINA | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

LAKE FOREST, Calif. — The first major revamp in years of Orange County's choked and aging freeway system is expected to be unveiled this week--$166 million in improvements to the infamous El Toro Y bottleneck.

The capacity of what is arguably one of the most detested freeway stretches in Orange County will be increased by 100,000 vehicles daily. Motorists accustomed to moving ahead by inches amid red brake lights on the Santa Ana Freeway will spread out from the nine existing lanes to the 26 new ones at the Y's widest point.

"I don't want to say it is the widest in the world because I don't know what's going on in other countries," said Orange County Transportation Authority spokesman John Standiford. "We sure don't know of any interchange that is wider."

The El Toro Y, on the primary San Diego-to-Los Angeles route, is where the Santa Ana and San Diego freeways merge. About 400,000 vehicles will be able to use the Y daily, up from its 300,000-car capacity.

Only the carpool lanes, built as concrete overpasses, remain unfinished. Most of the widening work at the Y was completed last year, and drivers are noticing the benefits.

"I can already knock about 10 minutes off my commute each way" to Garden Grove, said Mission Viejo resident Richard Hill. "It's worth all the hell we went through while they were building this thing."

The El Toro Y was rated by many transportation officials as the county's most congested freeway interchange, worse even than the notorious "Orange Crush," the confluence of the Orange, Santa Ana and Garden Grove freeways in Santa Ana.

Several major safety improvements also were made at the El Toro Y.

Poorly marked lane signs to the San Diego or Santa Ana freeways had meant that motorists often jumped several lanes at the last second. More signs have been installed and approach lanes lengthened to give drivers more time.

The project's completion also means the end of three years of midday traffic congestion from construction.

"Folks have suffered through the pain of commuting through the El Toro Y for a number of years," said County Supervisor Thomas W. Wilson. "Then they had to go through the frustration of living through construction" of the improvements.

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