Road Conditions

Road Conditions Updates

Mexicali Roadworks moving into higher gear

Now that Easter is over, the road widening project between the end of the Laguna Salada (km 90), past La Ventana (km 105) and south towards the Ensenada Road (km 130), is speeding up.

You will encounter diversions opening north of La Ventana at this time. Expect to drive on the desert floor for a couple of miles to start:

Diversion waiting to be opened north of La Ventana

In addition, the access to the store and the comfort stations at La Ventana will soon be lost as the grading of the new road bed continues:

La Ventana road grading, looking north

Additional diversions are being prepared for the road south of La Ventana to the entrance to the goldmine and I would expect these to be in use within a few weeks. 

On a positive note, the crossing for SENTRI card holders at the downtown Mexicali-Calexico port of entry has been made easier. The last mile of the SENTRI lane before the border crossing has always suffered from being shared with traffic  heading into the city center. When the downtown streets were clogged with rush hour traffic, the border crossing vehicles would be trapped in the jam. Now the authorities have taken away one of the three regular lanes, and made it exclusively available to the privileged border crossers (potholes have also been filled):

The new, widened, SENTRI lane at the downtown crossing to Calexico

 Downtown traffic is supposed to stay to the left and SENTRI traffic to the right in this new, dual purpose lane.

A significant renewal of the Mexicali downtown business district is also underway with a $2 million project to develop a restaurant-bar zone with a large pedestrian-only mall. It is believed that this will help attract visitors to walk across the border from Calexico to spend money wining, dining and shopping in Mexicali. As an incentive, the pedestrian lanes leading back to Calexico will be policed with more security personnel to lessen the frustration of people who see others cutting into the line.

This redevelopment of the downtown area, around Morelos and Reforma, will start this summer and could cause additional congestion for vehicles headed for San Felipe as traffic is rerouted.

 

 

 

Oh no! More roadworks!

I was terribly saddened to hear that new roadworks are starting on the Mexicali highway around La Ventana, half way to San Felipe. Many will remember the little roadhouse at La Ventana where the only gasoline station in the desert was to be found. It closed a few years ago and now the location is known mainly for its pay-per-use comfort stations.

More construction, just in time for the start of the tourist season is just what we needed.

In town, the Malecon is well and truly torn up but notices are being posted to say that the Tequila Festival will be held next weekend. However, this could be yet another false alarm as last year the festival was announced, and cancelled, twice. 

In Southern California, the price of gasoline has been rising at an incredible rate, around 15 cents in the past few days alone. In San Diego, most brand name stations are selling regular unleaded at around $4.50/gallon. This will undoubtedly drive a lot of desperate motorists to cross over the border to Baja and buy the much cheaper product there. Last time this happened, in 2010, lines formed at Mexicali and Tijuana gas stations and quotas were imposed. The extra traffic also resulted in clogged border crossing lanes. Even today we are seeing 3 hour wait times at San Ysidro. 

Meanwhile, in sleepy San Felipe, regular unleaded is selling for about $3dollars/gallon equivalent.

Roadworks complete (?) on the Mexicali-San Felipe highway

The Mexicali- San Felipe road is "finished". When I drove down from Mexicali last week all the paving was complete and there was not a single diversion into the desert. Only the ominous presence of idle construction machinery in off-road staging areas makes me wonder what mayhem could return.

Little did we know what we were in for when construction started on the highway in January 2007. For the past four years our local economy has suffered badly from the roadworks that have caused untold numbers of visitors to say "I am not coming back to San Felipe till the road is done".

Right from the start, when the highway from the Arches up to El Dorado was under construction, it seemed as though the contractors had no consideration for the residents and tourists. We were the ones that had to brave miles of poorly graded desert floor while the construction crews used the asphalt pavement.

grading the road

Earthmoving and grading near the San Felipe Arches, January 2007

 I used to have nightmares about some of the 10 mile stretches of punishment that I and my car had to endure crossing the deserts. There were times that I felt almost shaken to death. My car endured mechanical damage from rocks in the roadway and several of my electrical gadgets died prematurely. People wrote in with horror stories of the carnage caused to expensive vehicles, RVs' and low-slung sports cars. In retrospect, these terrible road conditions caused San Felipe to lose a significant part of its tourist trade; far, far, more than the bad press publicity and scare over the drug wars.

Rio Hardy area March 2011

Heading south around km50 in March 2011

All of this work was done to improve a road that used to bring thousands of snowbirds in their "casas rodantes" to fill the campos along our beaches for the winter. Yes, it was only a two lane highway but it was also a well-maintained and fast road. I used to look forward to the drive down in my old Spyder, especially on a glorious winter day with the top down and the wind buffeting me as I crossed the arrow-straight causeway on the Laguna Salada at 80.

On only one week a year, Easter week, did that old road reach its capacity. At that peak time a thousand vehicles an hour would be on the highway, but police patrols would rigidly enforce the speed limit and provide escorted caravans to make sure that there were no accidents. When the police were out of sight you would encounter scenes where vehicles were trying to overtake each other, pulling off into the desert to do it if necessary.

Easter traffic 2004

Easter Sunday 2004 - Traffic heading north towards Mexicali

Today we have a fine road with some magnificent stretches of four lane highway, a spectacular fly-over at the Ensenada Road junction and some remaining stretches of well-paved two-lane highway through the mountain passes. Most of the time, the road is now handling under 60 vehicles per hour. The casas rodantes, the investors and visitors with expensive cars have stayed away in droves, to the great detriment of our tourism and real estate economy. 

old 2 lane highway

Friday lunchtime rush hour on the 5 - heading north at km88

Admittedly, there are still some sections of the highway that are in their original, 2 lane, condition. An example is shown above in the photo I took when heading north from La Ventana at around 1 p.m. last Friday. The road is clearly in reasonable condition and is easily able to handle the flow of traffic.

 

Now is the time to declare success and to leave well alone. Let's not have any more construction on the Mexicali road until some alternate way of coming to San Felipe is available. Give us a few years to build back our visitor base.  

If the authorities must spend money, repave the road from town to the airport. That section is just a string of deep potholes and crumbling asphalt that gives a "third world" approach to our most prestigious hotel, the Marina Resort, and the deluxe developments of the south beaches.  Use the balance of the money to bring in an air shuttle service to Mexicali and San Diego, please! 

 

Mexicali to San Felipe via Highway 5

Tire debris in the roadway

 

The road between Mexicali and San Felipe is in very good condition -with the exception of the new construction zones. In some places, the new road surface is still being striped and the shoulders marked so be careful. At night, it is extremely difficult to see the edge of the road where new black asphalt has been applied. In addition, it is common to see tire tread from heavy goods vehicles, or construction materials that have fallen off a truck, on the roadway. You need good visibility to see these hazards. For these reasons, we always recommend that you drive only during daylight hours!

Road construction to build sections of the four lane higway is continuing in the area south of km80 to km 90 – on the Laguna Salada. You may have a 1-2 mile diversion where bridges and drainage channels are being built.

Here is an example of a diversion from the road down onto its west side and the graded desert floor:

 

Travel on these sections can be challenging, especially when the traffic is heavy and the surface is torn up by the vehicles. Take it slow and avoid the temptation to overtake slower traffic if you can. The dust clouds that are generated can reduce visibility to near-zero at times (especially at night!).

Mexicali west to Tecate, Tijuana and San Diego; east to San Luis Rio Colorado

San Felipe travelers are now blessed to have the new East-West tollway (officially the "Libramiento") open for travel to Tecate, Tijuana and San Diego without having to pass through Mexicali. The new toll road crosses the Mexicali-San Felipe highway (Mexico Highway 5) about 13 kilometers south of Mexicali. In the eastwards direction it runs to San Luis Rio Colorado, where you may cross the border to Yuma. The westbound direction is only accessible from the southbound lane of the San Felipe highway. This road is of no use to you for reaching the two Mexicali-Calexico border crossing stations.

If you are driving north from San Felipe, go under the highway overpass and make a U-turn – you will now see the sign as in picture above. At present the road is only a single lane in each direction but the traffic is very light and the road surface excellent. Immediately on entering the Libramiento, you will come to the first toll booth (45 pesos) and the road will take you around Mexicali and join with the main toll road up La Rumorosa and on to Tecate and Tijuana. I routinely take this road to go to San Diego and it is an absolute pleasure to return to San Diego via the Tecate border crossing on a Friday afternoon. Note that the Tecate crossing can be very busy on weekends as all the tourists flock over from San Diego to visit the famous brewery. The journey to Tecate will cost you a total of about $11 dollars in tolls and take about 1 hour from highway 5 – or just under 3 hours from San Felipe to the border there. This is also a very good way to travel from the Tijuana/San Diego area to San Felipe and completely bypass the traffic of Mexicali. Note that there is no SENTRI lane at Tecate.

If you are traveling to San Diego, it is worth giving yourself a treat at the end of the journey. When looking for a great place to eat in San Diego, all roads lead to restaurants like Eden in Hillcrest whose mouth-watering menu and great ambience make it one of the best new dining spots in town.

The toll road to Tecate is a beautiful engineering accomplishment and rivals some of the most scenic routes through the Swiss Alps. The road is well maintained and excellently signed (in fact there are almost too many informational signs along the way, with even signs to inform you not to deface the signs). The climb up the mountains to La Rumorosa is spectacular and there are rest areas (no restrooms) where you can pull off the road and look out over the Mexicali and Imperial valleys. You also get a chance to look at the huge pipeline and one of its pumping stations that sends the Colorado water to Tijuana. The trip to Tecate is highly recommended. Cellphone coverage is very spotty on the zig-zag road up the mountains.

To cross to the U.S. at Tecate, leave the toll road at the Tecate exit and proceed on the main city streets past various pharmaceutical plants and maquiladoras. (Map below – follow the yellow line) Just before getting to the town proper, you will see signs on the right-hand side of the road saying "Garita" and pointing to the right (north). A new road has been constructed which leads both passenger and commercial vehicles to the new crossing gates. You will go up and down two very steep hills and be driving right next to the boundary fence on this last mile of the road. Stay in the extreme right-hand lane! Trucks must use the left lane and will turn in through one of two massive iron bar gates to the inspection point. Cars will enter through the second massive gate which is only 30 meters farther on. There are two crossing lanes for cars at this gate but no SENTRI lane.

The town of Tecate itself is also a delight with its Zocalo (extreme left of the picture above) with a bar and cafe and there are two or three internet cafes within a couple of hundred yards of the square. Parking is relatively easy on a weekday. Small fast-food restaurants abound in the vicinity. An excellent liquor store opposite the northwest corner of the square sells a very comprehensive selection of Tequilas. From downtown, the access to the border crossing is now only from the East. You will have to backtrack to the road at the eastern end of the town. (yellow line on map above).

The Ensenada to San Felipe Road via Highway 3

A lonely route – drive only during daylight. 
This is the scenic route from the San Diego area to San Felipe! Normal driving time from Ensenada to San Felipe is 3 hours. Repairs and pothole-filling are a constant and on-going activity but the road is in generally good condition.

The 30 kilometers between Ensenada and Ojos Negros consists of spectacular curves with wonderful scenery but no passing lanes. Heavy goods vehicles use this section of road carrying produce and construction materials between Ensenada and the farming communities in the valley. Settle down and follow these vehicles at a safe distance. There is essentially no safe place to overtake and you might as well relax and enjoy the scenery. A permanent military checkpoint is located at Ojos Negros.

Beware of the tire-bursting topes (speed bumps) outside Heroes de Independencia; they warn you to slow down and you should take the warning seriously.

Independencia has small stores and refreshments available

The section of the road between Trinidad Valley and San Felipe is in fairly good condition. You will find workers making repairs along the section between the Trinidad Valley and Heroes de Independencia.

The Vistabella mini hotel, on the south side of the road at Valle de Trinidad, is the only rest facility on the journey. Beware of the small, almost invisible, step at the cafe entrance. Stay overnight in Ensenada and enjoy a relaxing gourmet meal rather than drive this very isolated road in the dark!!!

Puertecitos to Gonzaga Bay and Mexico Route 1

Everything is excellent down to El Huerfanito and Okies Landing, a distance of about 71 miles south of San Felipe.

The road a few miles north of El Huerfanito

 

Doug Magee sends this report from Rancho Grande at Bahia San Luis Gonzaga ( update 10/2011):

(see their website at http://www.papafernandez.com/)

The road south from San Felipe is paved and open to "Okies Landing". It is paved to Juan Pablo's ( Popeye's) and should open by the end of this month. That leaves only about 15 miles to our camp. and they graded that last week. Not perfect but graded !

The road is scheduled to be Paved to Rancho Grande by the first of the year (2012). The Ranch is putting a chase under the road now , so they can service the Palapas with Power and Water after the road is completed.

The Rancho Grande Pemex station is operating but is closed on Wednesday. Rancho Grande now has a excellent fulltime Restaurant. open from 8 AM to 8 PM . They have a full line of supplies even Ice cream. The road south to Highway 1 at Laguna Chapala is s also rough and rocky. Travel time from San Felipe to Rancho Grande is approximately 2.5 Hours in a high clearance Vehicle.

 

 

San Felipe to Puertecitos via Highway 5

The road south toward Puertecitos is in excellent shape and well paved to Puertecitos. Allow 1 hour for the trip. Note that the new Pemex station in Puertecitos still not open. Also note that the restaurant in Puertecitos is generally only open on weekends. A small store at the entrance to the town has beer and potato chips if you get hungry.