By Miriam Raftery
Photos courtesy of Deerhorn Valley Antler and Ray Conser
October 11, 2016 (Jamul) – Opening of the Hollywood Casino Jamul-San Diego yesterday caused extreme traffic delays of to several hours, according to the California Highway Patrol and residents. The Deerhorn Valley Antler reported 2-4 hour delays. Traffic on State Route 94 (Campo Road) was backed up for many miles, all the way from Otay Lakes Road in the south and from Kenwood Drive in Spring Valley in the north.Side roads such as Lyons Valley Road and Skyline also became jammed.
CHP’s incident page logged multiple complaints of motorists parking on both sides of highway 94 and other nearby streets illegally after the casino parking lot, which holds 1,800 vehicles, filled to capacity. There were reports of vehicles making illegal U-turns, passing illegally, and making right turns from a left-hand lane, as well as motorists walking along the roadway. One caller voiced distress, reporting that her vehicle overheated and her daughter was home along, per the CHP log. On Brush Fire Partyline’s Facebook page, Melissa Woodall worried about her children stuck in traffic on a school bus with no air conditioning. John MJodline wrote that it took two hours to get his son at Steele Canyon High school, where dozens of kids were stranded waiting for parents and some students crossed a dangerous thoroughfare.
Bonnie Andrews reported she turned back from going to Target in Rancho San Diego, miles from the casino, due to traffic backed up to Avocado. Another resident said a remodeling contractor had to reschedule because he couldn’t get through the traffic.
Ray Conser said his commute was delayed an hour and a half. He also voiced concern over fire danger. "While waiting on 94 to get to the Lyons Valley turn off an elderly lady in a brand new T-bird was smoking and knocking off her ashes and throwing out her lite cigarette on to the road. I got out of my car and told her that my home is out here and the fire danger is extremely high and that she should be using her ash tray in stead of the street, she rolled up her window and kept driving. The other thing that got me going was that multiple motorcycles and 6 cars that were using the right hand shoulder to pass the stopped traffic."
Some witnesesses reported access to a fire station was blocked. At 3:21 p.m.CHP’s site stated that approximately 40 vehicles were blocking a fire station engine exit and entrance. Cal Fire later issued a statement assuring that fire and other emergency vehicles had no access issues and were able to respond to an emergency along 94 around 2 p.m. However Tim Scherer, who listened to scanner traffic yesterday, told ECM,"on the radio the fire and ambulance guys were having trouble all day trying to respond."
The casino held a private ribbon cutting ceremony at 11 a.m. and a public opening at 2 p.m. Traffic problems started in the morning and continued well into the evening.
In the afternoon, road signs flashed messages warning motorists of extreme delays and advised that the casino was at capacity. CHP and Caltrans responded with traffic controls, leading residents to question why this wasn’t done much earlier, but slow traffic continued.
At 4:49 p.m., CHP issued a traffic advisory urging motorists to avoid the area for 6-8 hours---an unrealistic expectation for rural residents, since 94 is the only access route for many and alternate routes can add an hour or more to commute time for others.
Caltrans advises that delays may continue all week, in a statement urging motorists to “give themselves additional time to reach their destinations.” Motorists are also asked to watch for highway workers and obey speed limit signs particularly in construction zones.
The casino's general manager, Richard St. Jean, said in a statement Monday that traffic was "common with grand openings."
Motorists on 94 were already experience delays due to construction along the highway and traffic at Steele Canyon High School, but those delays pale compared to the long waits experienced yesterday, leading many to fear whether delays will continue beyond opening day.
Supervisor Dianne Jacob posted on her Facebook page that the traffic “nightmare” is”everything the community feared.” Residents have been vocal in opposing the casino, with traffic concerns the number one complaint. “The brutal traffic is the main reason we fought so hard against a casino at that spot, along two-lane, rural State Route 94,” Jacob added. “Caltrans badly failed the public by allowing the casino to open without all the needed road improvements in place, as required in a 2009 agreement between the state and Jamul Indian Village. The state failed in its most important job—keeping the public state.” She vowed to “double-down in our efforts to pressure the state to live up to its promises.”
For some residents, the frustration seems too much to handle.”Can’t wait to move out of here!” Michele Dukes posted on Brush Fire Partyline. “We enjoyed three peaceful beautiful years here and now our view of the mountains is a view of the casino.” She added that she stayed home yesterday to avoid the traffic nightmare.
The Tribe has committed $23 million to infrastructure improvements, but so far only a section of 94 in front of the casino has been completed, including new turn lanes and a traffic signal.
Multiple lawsuits remain pending in court over the casino, including complaints filed by the Jamul Action Committee and residents over serious traffic concerns---concerns that have moved beyond theoretical into reality, at least on the casino’s opening day.