I-5 / El Toro Road Interchange Improvement Project

 To view additional project information, please view Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA) website here.


The California Department of Transportation (Caltrans), in partnership with the Orange County Transportation Authority, (OCTA) proposes to modify the Interstate 5 (I-5)/El Toro Road Interchange (PM 17.8/19.7) within the Cities of Lake Forest, Laguna Woods, and Laguna Hills. The purpose of the project is to improve traffic flow, optimize traffic signalization, improve traffic mobility through adjacent local street intersections, reduce freeway ramp queuing, and apply technology to help manage traffic demand. Currently, the project is in the environmental review and preliminary engineering process.

Figure 1, project vicinity map



Project Vicinity Map


Caltrans is re-initiating the environmental and engineering studies for this project. An Environmental Impact Report (EIR) and Environmental Assessment (EA) will be prepared to evaluate potential effects that could result from the proposed project. In accordance with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the environmental document will be prepared as a joint environmental document. This is the Caltrans Project Approval and Environmental Document (PA&ED) phase for this Project.

The Notice of Preparation and additional project materials are available for public review and comment and can be found under What’s Available/Resources below.


Project History

In February 2015, the Project Study Report (PSR) considered 15 alternatives, of which four build alternatives were recommended for further study. In May 2017, Caltrans initiated the Environmental and Preliminary Engineering (PAED) phase.  Two of the four alternatives were removed from further study.

From April-May 2019, a Draft Initial Study/Environmental Assessment (IS/EA) was circulated for public review for the proposed Project.  Following this public review period, a consensus on a preferred alternative could not be achieved due to lack of local support.  Hence, these alternatives will be eliminated from further consideration.


In October 2021, OCTA embarked to initiate an Alternatives Assessment Study in order to take “one more look” at the I-5/El Toro Road interchange, to see if there was any other alternative interchange configuration(s) that could be developed to handle the Southbound (SB) traffic existing at El Toro Road.  The goal of the conceptual interchange configurations prepared during Alternative Assessment Study was to meet the Purpose & Need of the project, which would reduce traffic congestion, improve on & off-ramps operation (reduce off-ramp queuing), improve traffic flow, and traffic signal optimization for the SB traffic exiting at El Toro Road.  This study looked at seven alternatives and recommended the following two Build Alternatives (under Project Alternatives below) for detailed evaluation.  At the request of the Cities, Caltrans is also evaluating the Transportation System Management (TSM) and Transportation Demand Management (TDM) Alternative as a standalone build alternative as discussed below.


Proposed Alternatives  

Four alternatives are proposed for consideration, one No Build and three Build Alternatives.

No Build Alternative

The No Build Alternative proposes no action, where no construction or improvements would be made to the I-5/El Toro Road Interchange apart from proposed projects that are under development or concurrently in construction. The No Build Alternative would not address the issues and deficiencies within the project limits.


Build Alternative AA-1

Alternative AA-1 proposes an additional I-5 SB off-ramp to independently serve El Toro Road EAST, and El Toro WEST. These two SB off-ramps are proposed in lieu of the one existing SB offramp. This is accomplished with a 2-lane I-5 SB off-ramp to El Toro Road that is split with one lane assigned to El Toro Road WEST, using the existing hook ramp, while one lane is assigned to El Toro Road EAST that is braided over the SB hook on-ramp. This ramp then travels over El Toro Road on a new bridge, and then ties into a realigned Avenida De La Carlota by the Laguna Hills Mall area. A new SB hook on-ramp is provided along the realigned Avenida De La Carlota. The existing SB direct on-ramp from El Toro Road is eliminated, while the existing access provided by the SB ramps, opposite Paseo De La Valencia, are maintained. The NB ramps would be in a similar configuration as today, with improvements made by I-5 Segment 3, which is currently under construction.


Plan view exhibit of Alternative AA-1 


Build Alternative AA-5

Alternative AA-5 proposes an I-5 SB flyover off-ramp to independently serve El Toro Road EAST, and a separate hook off-ramp for El Toro WEST. This is accomplished with a 2-lane I-5 SB offramp to El Toro Road that is split with one lane assigned to El Toro Road WEST, using the existing hook ramp, while one lane is assigned to El Toro Road EAST that is a flyover that connects to both El Toro Road and Rockfield Boulevard. The flyover ramp connects into a roundabout that provides access to El Toro Road EAST, and provides access to Los Alisos Boulevard. Vehicles accessing El Toro Road EAST would have to make a right turn onto El Toro Road.


Plan view exhibit of Alternative AA-5 


Build Alternative - Transportation System Management (TSM) and Transportation Demand Management (TDM)

Caltrans will evaluate a standalone TSM/TDM Alternative.  TSM strategies increase the efficiency of existing facilities; they are actions that increase the number of vehicle trips a facility can carry without increasing the number of through lanes.  Examples of TSM strategies for this project include ramp metering, signal timing, signal coordination, and intersection technology.

TDM focuses on regional means of reducing the number of vehicle trips and vehicle miles traveled as well as increasing vehicle occupancy.  As an example, a regional agency could actively promote ridesharing, maintain rideshare databases, and provide limited rideshare services to employers and individuals.

Project Overall Schedule

Preliminary Engineering and Environmental Review Process – Early 2023 – Winter 2025

Schedule for Final Design, Right of Way or Construction will be finalized as we progress through PAED

Funding Sources: OCTA (OCGO) and Caltrans

Public Scoping Period Extended

The public scoping period for the project was initially conducted from July 11, 2023 to August 25, 2023. In response to comments received during the initial public scoping period we are extending the public scoping period for an additional 45 days (November 1, 2023- December 18, 2023) to provide additional time for the public, resource agencies, and stakeholders to provide input on the depth and breadth of issues that should be addressed in the environmental document. Comments received during this extended scoping period will become part of the public record and will be considered in developing the environmental document and defining the project scope

Please submit your comments no later than 5 p.m. on Monday, December 18, 2023.

Comments may be submitted during the public scoping period (November 1, 2023 – December 18, 2023) in any of the following formats:

All written comments submitted during the scoping period will be recorded.

Comments may be submitted during the public scoping period in any of the following formats:

  • Mail to Gabriela Duran, Caltrans District 12: Environmental Department, 1750 East Fourth Street, Suite 100, Santa Ana, CA 92705
  • Email comments to D12.ELToro@dot.ca.gov with the subject line “I-5 El Toro Road Interchange Project”.
  • Online comment form here.

What is Available/Resources

To view scoping documents, please view Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA) website here.

The following documents are available on OCTA's project website under 'Resources'. 

  • Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
  • Fact Sheet
  • El Toro Interchange Project PowerPoint Presentation
  • Presentation Boards 
  • Alternative Assessment Final Report