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Concerns Remain Over La Jolla Trolley Extension Project

June 5, 2013 1:29 p.m.


Jim Linthicum, Director of Mobility Management and Project Implementation

Janay Kruger, Chairwoman, University City Planning Group

Joe Lacava, Vice Chairman, La Jolla Community Planning Association

Related Story: Concerns Remain Over La Jolla Trolley Extension Project


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

CAVANAUGH: Our top story on Midday Edition, a series of public workshops underway in San Diego marks a significant step forward for a planned expansion of the trolley system. The Mid-coast Trolley Line would connect Missions Valley with La Jolla along a route that closely follows Interstate 5. This expansion has been talked about for ten years, now it's entering the phase of public comment on the project's draft environmental reports. Joining me are my guest, Jim Linthicum director of project implementation at SANDAG. Welcome.

LINTHICUM: Thank you very much.

CAVANAUGH: Joe Lacava is here, vice chairman of the La Jolla community planning organization.

LACAVA: Thank you to be here, Maureen.

CAVANAUGH: This project has been in the work since the '90s. What has been the holdup?

LINTHICUM: Well, the region had some priorities to choose on, that is to complete the trolley line, the green line through Missions Valley, and that was open upside in 2005, or do the mid-coast extension, which goes from old town up to the UTC area. At the time, 15, 20 years ago, it was felt there would be more bang for the buck by completing the green line and opening it up through mission line. Now it's time for the green coastline.

CAVANAUGH: And is that comes here to San Diego state university?


CAVANAUGH: Tell us about the route through the mid-coast trolley line.

LINTHICUM: It starts at old town transit center, and then goes north along the existing railroad tracks. Until about state route 52. It goes under 52 and crosses over the freeway, over Interstate 5 and into the UTC area. It stops at Nobel drive, a potential stop at the VA Medical Center, two standpoint stops at the UC San Diego campus. A stop at Executive Drive on Genesee, and terminates at the UTC mall.

CAVANAUGH: Explain for us the reasons for this expansion. Why does San Diego need this new trolley line?

LINTHICUM: Well, when you look at the jobs and the demographics, it's amazing how the university city and UTC area have developed over the first generation. That area and now almost equal to downtown San Diego as far as jobs go. So you want to be able to connect people with the jobs. The benefit of the trolley extension is you will now have all the folks in south bay and all the bedroom communities be able to get to those jobs in the university city area on a 1-seat ride. The plan is that this will be an extension of the blue line that starts in San Ysidro, terminates in downtown. It'll then go all the way up to the UTC area. So there's connecting people with jobs. You also are connecting universities. You have San Diego, University of San Diego, and San Diego State, the three largest universities all connected by rail. And think of the healthcare facilities up there with the UC San Diego and Scripps and the VA. You're going to be able to have much easier access. Not just the workers but the patients.

CAVANAUGH: Joe, you're with the La Jolla community planning association as I said. How closely have you been working with SANDAG planners? Let me put it this way, how closely has SANDAG been working with local planning communities on the trolley expansion?

LACAVA: Well, SANDAG has actually done a very good job on this. As you mentioned, this has been around for a long time. So the communities have been well aware of this and have actually just been waiting for this to come back online. But SANDAG formed a working group that brought in representatives from the beach area in La Jolla, Clairemont, and university city to gain their input primarily on the locations where people are most interested in. The alignment is really being driven by the unique topography that we have here in San Diego and the needs of a trolley line. But they have been working very closely. So I owe a lot for SANDAG and their outreach. Now with the new public meetings in the neighborhoods, they've done a great job. You don't normally see this many meetings for a single project.

CAVANAUGH: And in fact, the route SANDAG has adopted is considered the locally preferred alternative, or the LPA. What's different about this plan than the others that SANDAG originally offered?

LINTHICUM: A few years back, we studied multiple alternatives, different alignments for a trolley line. We also studied possibly a company accomplishing the same purpose, the bus line. We started looking at having the coaster try to serve those populations. So during that alternatives analysis, it came down to extending the trolley was the best solution. Since that point, since that LPA was adopted, we've spent the last couple years drafting an environmental document on that alternative. And then different little tweaks here and there, just different little things that we could do differently with that alternative, and that's what we have sent out to the public a few weeks ago, and we're seeking their input.

CAVANAUGH: There are still concerns about the environmental impact though. I'm thinking rose canyon and its wildlife corridors.

LACAVA: There is concern. The Rose Canyon crossing is going to be a pinch point because not only do we have the trolley but the regular railroad tracks. A bicycle path in that area. And the sensitive habitat. So that's being monitored very closely. And there are environmental groups who are generally pleased with the response by SANDAG in identifying the impacts as well as developing a comprehensive mitigation program. That's really the only environmental location in terms of biology. There is the usual noise and traffic that are also being carefully considered. And I think very thankfully being analyzed and mitigation measures being developed by SANDAG.

CAVANAUGH: I want to go to -- there's a guest on the phone, Janay Kruger is chairwoman of the university city planning group. Welcome.

KRUGER: Thank you.

CAVANAUGH: You just heard from Joe about the possible environmental impacts or at least that crush there at rose canyon. Are there other environmental impacts that your group is concerned about and want to see addressed?

KRUGER: Yes, we favor the preferred alternative alignment that's being studied. But we just got the EIR, the devil is always in the details. And we are concerned about noise, the visual aspects of it, the design of the -- there are six stations in university city planning group -- area. So we're concerned about the design of the stations, how we get people in and out, and interface with the loops and buses and everything. And we're concerned how you fit everything in the I-5 corridor from rose canyon to Nobel. There's two bike paths, I-5, the train, and nought trolley.

CAVANAUGH: Let me ask Jim. You have heard these concerns before? Is this the type of information you're trying to gather at these workshops?

LINTHICUM: That's exactly right. We have worked with a lot of the community groups, a lot of the other advocacy groups over the past couple years in developing this draft document. We have changed things to avoid the problems, we have proposed mitigations where we can avoid them. And now the next step is we're trying to get out to the public, what have we missed? What can we do to even make this project better? And we'll be working with Janay and Joe and folks in the planning group, friends of rose canyon, to figure out how can we make this the best project it can be? And I think we have a pretty good history of caring about the esthetics of the stations. Our latest line extension, the green line through Missions Valley has very attractive stations. And we worked with the communities there as we will here.

CAVANAUGH: And Janay, one last question, do you have any plans that you're going to submit for any stations or anything like that? Or just wait and see what SANDAG might propose?

KRUGER: Well, I'm not sure what's going on. Maybe Joe has been having private meetings, but we have had half a dozen private meetings with SANDAG and supervisor Ron Roberts. And supervisor Ron Roberts is going to lead the design team on the stations. So we're following his lead. He has put together a team of architects with SANDAG, I think, that they're going to work with him, and Ron is an architect. I believe there is noise mitigation in the environmental document. So we're just going to have to -- we have other meetings scheduled with SANDAG, with the engineers for alignment issues. So we've been working aggressively with SANDAG and Gary Gallegos and all those guys have been wonderful with us. So we think we can work everything out. It's just there's a lot of details to go through in the environmental document.

CAVANAUGH: Thank you for your time today. I appreciate it.

KRUGER: Have a good day.

CAVANAUGH: Jim, what is the price tag on this project?

LINTHICUM: The current estimate in the current budget is $1.7 billion.

CAVANAUGH: Hasn't there been a concern about cost increases?

LINTHICUM: There was about a year and a half ago. We took a cost increase to our board that increased the project budget from $1.2 billion to $1.7 billion. And that was a significant event. This process of us doing the draft environmental document and some of the early engineering, that's when you help identify what a lot ofnies impacts are, what a lot of the needs are that we didn't know about at the time, when it was just purely a planning study. So we wanted to get in front of those where we could establish a good price upfront so everyone would be what is the final cost of the project going to be.

CAVANAUGH: And where is the money coming from?

LINTHICUM: Half is from local sales tax revenue called TransNet, that supports so many of our transportation projects in the region. And the other half is expected to come from the federal government through a competitive process called the New Starts, from the federal transit administration.

CAVANAUGH: Joe, you speak with your community, and you've got your ear to the ground. Despite the concerns about noise and esthetics of the station, are people sort of anticipating or looking forward to this trolley extension?

LACAVA: Absolutely. It was started many years ago. People are aware of it. And that's really the question I get more often: When is it going to be built? When is it going to be operating? Because people are really excited for the trolley to come north of the San Diego river into our beach communities and Clairemont and university city as you mentioned. So that's the real question. Tying it into a station on the UCSD campus is going to be a tremendous benefit to not only the students but also the people who like to go to the campus for events.

CAVANAUGH: After these workshops are completed, what's the next step?

LINTHICUM: Well, we take that input we get, and people can give us input at these workshops, in writing, e-mail, facts or voicemail. We take all those comments, and then we address each one of them in the environmental document. And that's what we're going to be doing in the coming months is addressing each one of those comments and making changes to address those comments where we can if possible. The federal government because they have half the skin in this game, they then also have to adopt the environmental document. And that's anticipated next spring. And then after we get the final clearance, we finish off the design effort, and we start construction, and we're hoping to start in 2015.

CAVANAUGH: Well, thank you both for coming in and telling us all about it. The next public workshop on the mid-coast trolley takes place on Monday from 3:00 to 6:00 at UC San Diego's Price Center East.