SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO ( — Commuters and area residents who use the 5 Freeway to travel south to San Diego may face some headaches — from a noisy Caltrans pile-driving operation and the resulting traffic — over the next three weeks.

Starting Monday, two of the five southbound lanes will be closed between 5 a.m. and 1 p.m. each weekday as work continues on a $230 million project to widen the freeway between San Juan Creek Road and Avenida Pico in San Clemente. Because it will take about 90 minutes to set up the lane closures each morning, Caltrans spokesman Joel Zlotnick told City News Service that the actual work will not begin until 6:30 a.m.

By closing the lanes, workers will be able to safely use the huge, shake-inducing pile drivers to “create a stable foundation for freeway widening,” according to a notice from Caltrans. The loud equipment allows poles (or piles) to be driven into the ground to build a support structure for the roadway. People in the Capistrano Beach area, near the 5 Freeway and Pacific Coast Highway, will still have to deal with the loud banging each morning.

“The alternative here was to do this at night, and we feel like that is totally unacceptable to the residents,” Zlotnick said.

The work is part of a plan to add a carpool lane and other space to the freeway in “an area that is notorious for weekend traffic jams and weekday rush-hour bottlenecks,” Caltrans said.

There is no alternative freeway route to Interstate 5 on the west side of the Santa Ana Mountains, so losing those two lanes is expected to push more traffic onto area surface streets each morning.

Caltrans said it must complete the pile driving by Feb. 15 to avoid disrupting birds and bats that nest in the area.

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