San Diego Transportation Plan Shifts Emphasis From Roads to Rails - Next City

San Diego Transportation Plan Trades Asphalt for Steel

In a historic change of emphasis, the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) released a long-range transportation plan last Friday that will spend billions on new and improved rail transit lines while cutting back on highway spending.

According to a report in the San Diego Union-Tribune, SANDAG’s new transportation plan calls for adding hundreds of miles of high-speed transit lines extending east to Poway, north to Escondido and up the coast to Oceanside. It also calls for a new light rail line from the Otay Mesa border crossing, north through National City and downtown San Diego before ending in Oceanside.

When all the routes called for in the plan are completed, SANDAG officials expect the transit share of all trips to rise from 1.5 percent to about 10 percent. Some of the funds needed to achieve this vision will come from scrubbing previously announced highway expansions.

SANDAG executive director Hasan Ikhrata explained the rationale for the shift this way: “Most congestion in the region is caused by the last 5 percent of vehicles entering the system. If I take twice that from the [highway] system, I create 100 years of capacity.”

In addition to trading roads for transit lines, however, tax increases would be necessary to fund the ambitious plan. The first of what would likely be several such increases will go before voters in 2020, when the San Diego Metropolitan Transit System will put a sales-tax hike on the ballot. The tax increase would require a two-thirds majority of all votes cast to pass.

The proposal drew mixed responses from the government officials in attendance at the announcement. Officials representing communities in the northern and eastern parts of San Diego objected to the removal of highway improvements already promised to their constituents. Meanwhile, the mayors of the county’s largest cities all backed the plan.

SANDAG did not put a price tag on the plan at the announcement, but it did say it would release a cost estimate in the coming months and that it expected the tab to run in the tens of billions of dollars.

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