Friday, December 17, 2010
SAN DIEGO The money is big and the stakes are high. The question is: How should San Diego spend $110 billion over the next 40 years to make it easier to get from here to there? This morning the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) held a long meeting devoted to that question. In the end, it approved a new Regional Transportation Plan that included a controversial blueprint to expand I-5.
Funding for the Regional Transportation Plan (RTP) comes from state and federal dollars, along with money raised by San Diego County’s TransNet tax.
The updated RTP has plenty of good news for people who like alternative transportation. About $2.6 billion will be spent to make it easier and safer to bike and walk. One analysis of the plan spotted $24 billion in new mass transit investments.
The plan includes four new light-rail lines, including one that connects University City to Mira Mesa. Another line would take trolley riders from Pacific Beach to El Cajon. Elyse Lowe, executive director of Move San Diego, said the RTP would also provide more frequent transit trips in the central metro area.
“If we can get buses going where people don’t have to wait 20 minutes, and they know the frequency at which it’ll come, that’s really important,” she said.
Even so, a lot of people spoke out against the transportation plan, and three members of the SANDAG board voted against it. Most of the dissent centered on the plan to expand I-5 to 14 lanes in north coastal areas. That expansion will require the condemnation of many homes.
And not all transit boosters were happy with the plan. Marco Gonzalez, an environmental attorney, said the RTP makes a big mistake by planning to build transit projects while also expanding freeways to reduce traffic congestion.
“If you don’t have congestion, people won’t take transit,” said Gonzalez. “If you build highways at the same time you’re building transit, you’re going to incentivize the kind of sprawl development that we’ve historically seen.”
The Regional Transportation Plan is one step in a long process. Opponents of the I-5 expansion say they hope there’s still time for SANDAG to reverse today’s decision. Meanwhile, transit proponents will continue to push for a plan they call “Transit First,” which would delay freeway expansion until transit alternatives have a chance to win people over.