How did the brand spanking-new, 10-day-old, $10 million I-15 “Integrated Corridor Management System” work Tuesday in its first true test dealing with massive freeway traffic due to an unforeseen traffic event?
Escondido and North County commuters encountered a traffic jam-up of Biblical proportions following a series of collisions near Lake Hodges shortly before 6 a.m. Tuesday. Most of the congestion didn’t clear until just before noon.
A bus, tractor-trailer and at least four other vehicles were involved in the collision with one person transported to Palomar Medical Center with injuries.
Debris littered the road, according to the California Highway Patrol, with four southbound lanes closed for hours funneling traffic into a vise-like grip on the highway to commuter hell.
The offending vehicles — including a silver Nissan Titan, a gray Jeep, a white Toyota Tacoma, a gray Nissan Altima, a red truck and a big rig — all had been moved to shoulder areas by about 6:30 a.m., allowing authorities to reopen a few lanes, CHP said.
However, as tow trucks were slow to navigate the clogged lanes to remove the smashed vehicles, the normally congested morning commute route descended into chaos, becoming even more snarled than usual, with traffic still slow in the area for hours, drivers reported.
The carpool lane and another southbound lane were closed along with Via Rancho Parkway and Del Lago Boulevard on-ramps by Westfield North County regional mall throughout the morning. It took more than two hours to re-open all lanes although the Via Rancho entrance remained closed past noon.
So much for the new “Integrated Corridor Management System” or ICM as regional transportation officials dubbed it.
With great fanfare only 10 days ago, regional transit officials rolled out the new system designed to cope with traffic conditions on the 20-mile stretch of I-15 between State Route 56 at Carmel Mountain Ranch and State Route 78 at Escondido. That’s the precise stretch of freeway snarled all Tuesday morning.
The $10 million system was designed to coordinate electronic freeway signs displaying labeled routes and instructions about how to follow while also re-setting surface street traffic signals to facilitate vehicle flow.
Routes were designated with labels from A through W on sparkling new signs spread across the freeway. That supposedly translated into 23 alternate routes along surface streets near the freeway.
The system uses a system of electronic freeway signs, 40 permanent, specially-designated, alternate route signs, and coordinated traffic signal and ramp meters supposedly giving motorists the option of circumventing major incidents that occur on the freeway.
“Nobody has done this anywhere in the country,” San Diego Association of Governments Director of Operations Ray Traynor said. “If you’re notified of a delay up ahead, let’s say you’re at I-15 and Miramar Road, you might be given an instruction to take a particular route off the freeway that would be different than one I would get if I was further north.”
The system largely was paid for with an $8 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation, which identified the I-15 corridor in 2010 for a pilot program for the new technology. Another $2 million from the state also was used.
Back to the drawing board?