Wednesday, December 22, 2010
The proposal to widen a 27-mile stretch of Interstate 5 from La Jolla to Camp Pendleton has received a big push forward from the San Diego Association of Governments. Last Friday, SanDag members overwhelmingly approved the Regional Transportation Plan which includes the proposal to widen I-5 by 6 lanes from Del Mar to Carlsbad.
The proposal to widen a 27-mile stretch of Interstate 5 from La Jolla to Camp Pendleton has gotten a big push forward from the San Diego Association of Governments. Last Friday, SANDAG members overwhelmingly approved the Regional Transportation Plan which includes the proposal to widen I-5 by 6 lanes from Del Mar to Carlsbad.
The I-5 expansion plan has run up against strong opposition in recent months. Environmentalists have warned about the impact of the construction on sensitive areas; North County residents are concerned about noise; and about 30 homeowners will be forced to move if the SANDAG-approved expansion plan goes forward.
Guests: Lesa Heebner, mayor, Solana Beach
Carl Hilliard, member, Del Mar City Council
Gary Gallegos, Executive Director, San Diego Association of Governments
I'm Maureen Cavanaugh and you're listening to These Days on KPBS. The proposal to widen a 27-mile stretch of Interstate five from La Jolla to Camp Pendleton has gotten a big push forward from the San Diego association of governments. Last Friday, SANDAG members overwhelmingly approved the regional transportation plan which includes the proposal to widen I-five, and they approved the most ambitious plan of all, increasing the freeway by six lanes from Del Mar to Carlsbad. The I-5 expansion plan has run up against strong opposition in recent months. Environmentalists have warned about the impact of the construction on sensitive areas. North County residents are concerned about noise, and about 30 homeowners will be forced to move if the SANDAG approved expansion plan goes forward. Joining us to talk about the SANDAG vote is what happens now are my guests. Gary Gallegos is executive director of SANDAG. And Gary, thank you so much for coming in today.
GALLEGOS: Maureen thank you for having me this morning.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Braving the elements and everything. I really appreciate it. Lisa Heebner is mayor of Solana beach. Good morning, Lisa.
HEEBNER: Good morning, Maureen.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And Carl Hilliard a member of the Del Mar City Council. Good morning, Carl.
HILLIARD: Good morning.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now, Lisa and Carl are two of only three SANDAG members who voted against the I-5 expansion. And we invite our listeners to join the conversation. Do you agree with arguments that North County is in desperate need of more freeway lanes, or are you opposed to the proposal? Give us a call with your questions and comments of our number is 1-888-895-5727. Gary, I'm gonna start out with some basics for our listeners who are not really familiar with the San Diego association of governments. Remind us, what is SANDAG and what does it do.
GALLEGOS: Well, basically the San Diego association of governments, we're the 18 cities and the county come together in a regional forum to work on things like transportation and housing and environmental open space issues 678 and our board of directors is made up of either a council member or a mayor from each of the 18 cities. And a couple of members of the board of supervisors. And in the area of transportation, primarily -- our big responsibilities at the federal level are what's known as the Metropolitan Planning Organization, and at the state level, we're what's known as the regional transportation planning association. So both of those require SANDAG to produce a long range transportation plan. In this case, our horizon year would be 32050.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Right. So the 2050 region transportation plan, as you say, is one of these overarching county wide, long range plans to see how people can get around in the county, what the commuter is gonna be like. Various forms of transportation from North County to south bay and so forth. So what are the key elements of that 2050 region transportation plan?
GALLEGOS: Well, you know, first of all about -- the requirements require us to do a fiscally constrained plan that's based on reasonable, expected revenues during that planning horizon. But we first started out by looking at an unconstrained plan that we work with all 18 cities, the county, CALTRANS, the two transit operators, MTS and North County Transit, to put together this unconstrained -- arguably, I guess that's the overall needs in the region during this time. And from there, we're required to constrain that within the revenues. And so in this case our unconstrained piece is about a hundred and $45 million price tag on the needs that have been identified. And the reasonable revenues that would be expected during that period get us to about a hundred and $9 billion. And so that's sort of the money side. Of beyond that, a couple of key things, you know, about 40 percent of these dollars are to just maintain what we already have.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Uh-huh.
GALLEGOS: About I quarter of it is what our cities are gonna be doing on their local streets and roads. And so as you work down that, issue the piece then comes to what are the new sort of capacity pieces that are on the system? And in this particular plan, the focus is on improving the existing freeways in terms of Interstate 5, 8 O5, 15, but it's also got a pretty aggressive transit component that looks at adding quite a few new transit lines, looking at expanding the existing rail system we have today, looks at putting the trolley downtown in a tunnel, so it's under ground, so it's not competing with the rest of the transit system, it provides double tracking or coaster rail lineup through North County, that provides us -- that's our rail link to the rest of the word. Of it would take the sprinter line between Escondido and Oceanside and would double track that and extend it down to the mall in Escondido. So there's a pretty big transit expansion that's also part of this plan.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And I'm glad that you went through that because I want to make sure that people realize what SANDAG voted on was not just the expansion of Interstate five, as part of the 2050 region transportation plan, bub that was a big component of it. So tell us what happened at the SANDAG board last Friday. What did the board vote on in connection to that I-5 expansion?
GALLEGOS: Yeah. And maybe the place to start is the first to look at the existing plan we have today. Of and the existing plan today, the unconstrained piece of I-5 is what we would call ten plus 4, or 10 General Purpose Lanes, eight that exist already today, and two new ones, plus these 4 Managed Lanes. The constrained portions of the RCC given that dollars that we've spent to 2030 have that at a eight plus four. And so what -- and we update these plans every four years. And so in this update of the plan, what the board voted for is to add ten plus four from literally state route 56 all the way through to Carlsbad. Of and then eight plus four beyond that within the revenue constrained piece of the plan. And so both of those are consistent with the project level work that Caltrans is doing today. Caltrans has got a environmental impact report that they're working on.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Uh-huh.
GALLEGOS: And so both of these are consistent with that. But I think you raise a really important point that this was just one of a big network of things that the board of directors approved as the network to move forward in the -- actually developing the next region transporting a plan that would give us an outlook through 2050.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now, just one more question to you, Gary, before I go to the decenters on this vote. And we are talking about during the widest section of this I-5 expansion proposal that SANDAG approved, we would be talking about 14 lanes. They opted for adding those six lanes in that area, as I say between Del Mar and Carlsbad. Why did board members say that they wanted this largest option that they had available?
GALLEGOS: Well, I think, you know, as part of the process here, the board of directors also approved project evaluation criteria that looks at things like safety and looks at things like capacity, you know, looks at things like congestion relief, and the demand that we have based on the growth that we're forecasting. And so based on that criteria, when we looked at the I-5 project, the piece between Del Mar and Carlsbad was the fourth highest ranked project in the region. The piece between Carlsbad and Oceanside was, like, the 25th ranked project out of some 40 projects that were ranked. So I think in the board moving forward, when they directed us to go back and develop this hybrid that we did, they also directed us to take a look at the project evaluation criteria that they had adopted and that we had run all the projects through, and so I think that criteria drives us to say that the demand for I-5 is greatest between Del Mar and Carlsbad, and then we started seeing a drop off in some of the demand, and that's why we can start to squeeze down the freeway from an overall of 14 lanes to the 12 lanes.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I'm speaking with Gary Gallegos, he's executive director of SANDAG. I'd like to bring in my two other guests new, Lisa Heebner, mayor of Solana Beach, and Carl Hilliard, a member of the Del Mar City Council. And remind listeners that we're taking your calls at 188-895-5727. As I said, Lisa, you and Carl were two of only three SANDAG board members who voted against the six lane expansion of I-5. What's wrong with this plan in your view?
HEEBNER: I think the impacts far outweigh the benefits of that larger plan. Now, I have to say like many people I'm not opposed to some improvements on the I-5, but I think the ten plus four configuration is just too super sized. I agree that we do need so improvements because there are gonna be som individuals, some businesses, some freight that can't switch to transit, and even if we could wiggle our nose ask and have the coastal core money and all those projects approved and enough money in the pipeline, we wouldn't have those built for another ten years or so. So I so think that there should be a little bit of something, and I've shown my support for eight plus four in a phased manner. And what I mean by that is actually what we have here in Solana Beach with our recent improvements, what we have is the 4 General Lanes, general purpose lanes in each direction, and then 1 HOV Lane in each direction as well as an auxiliary lane in some parts of that. If we were to continue that north, I think that would make sense. Then once we were to double track the coaster, do an elves and see if we did need that extra HOV lane. And if so, we could then build that hopefully within the right-of-way. But I think, Maureen, that there's a lot of things that the board didn't perhaps understand about the I-5. Not everybody reviewed the I-5 EIR like those of us on the coast did.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Sure, yeah.
HEEBNER: One of the things that I think is very important to recognize is that it's going to take 38 years to build this project. That's 38 of construction related inconvenience, noise, pollution, detours, you know, all of that. So I'm not exactly sure when we're gonna get the congestion relief from that, if it takes 38 years, if you remember, the EIR didn't even review the construction related impacts because they termed them temporary at 38 years. The other thing that people may not know is that the growth forecast that Caltrans used in their EIR was an outdated one. And they predicted far more people coming to the county by the year 2030 than our new forecast shows. So this throws into contention al of the statistics and bar charts and time savings charts that Caltrans put into any of their presentations that your listeners may have attended.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And I'm sorry, Lisa, I wanted to get Carl's input [CHECK].
HILLIARD: I voted against it because this is all about a balance between what money should be set on transit and what money should be spent on pureeing concrete and building new freeways. We know that the costs and convenience of choosing transit over your automobile is cost and convenience. And if you can use your destination using transit at about the same time it takes there to drive there by car, then the percentage of people who drive to work goes down. And the SANDAG objective in adopting the ten plus four configuration is to keep the commuter drive time at present [CHECK] people in their cars not on the train or in buses.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: We are taking calls frommin wellers at 1-888-895-5727. And we have Mike on the line right now from Escondido. Good morning, Mike, and welcome to These Days. Of.
NEW SPEAKER: Good morning, thank you for taking my call.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: You're welcome.
NEW SPEAKER: My question was, we've known about the traffic situation in San Diego and other parts of the area for many, many years. And as one of the representatives there said, you know, some of of the results won't happen for 38 years or so, if they do these changes. Why hasn't there been more focused analysis on, like, a BART type system like San Francisco has? One, it would help keep the environment clean also bring in some revenue, and all that other stuff.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Thank you for the call, Mike. And Gary, I wonder if you'd like to tell us what kind of public transportation is actually involved in this I-5 expansion plan?
GALLEGOS: Well, the I-five piece, if we look at that corridor, the plans are to not only improve the freeway, and we should note that those extra four lanes are also dedicated towards vehicles that carry more than one person, that that's the focus. We would sell the extra capacity that would help then fund some of the transit piece, but some of the transit pieces are, you know, double tracking and grade separating in some key corridor, the coastal rail piece, taking the rail road off the bus in Del Mar and putting that in a tunnel, and then ultimately when we get to the downtown area, downtown San Diego area, where a lot of the transit pieces interconnect there, is putting that in an under ground tunnel to try to, you know, allow us to increase the frequencies, increase the capacity of the system to carry more. Throughout the system, the other key piece is also providing us more opportunity to do more express service. So if we had more capacity on the rail lines, maybe you don't have to stop at every transit stop, if the trains were full and if you could through these express services make this transit, the trip times a lot more competitive with the automobile, giving San Diegans more choices than they may have today.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: So that under ground trolley sort of like a subway, sort of like a BART?
GALLEGOS: Yes, it's starting to -- you know, right now we're constrained in downtown San Diego as to how many trains we can put on the trolley system because of the length of the city blocks. We can't on load and off load people in the middle of the streets. And so right now in downtown San Diego, our trolley system is particularly along C street competes with the, you know, all the streets that cross it. And so this would allow us to remove that conflict and allow us to add a lot more capacity and a lot better enhancements to the transit system that really affect the whole region. Because a lot of the interaction, you know, a lot of those trains or trolleys are ultimately headed to the downtown area.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: We have to take a short break, but when we return, I want to talk more about the potential impact to North County residents if indeed I-5 is widened to as much as 14 lanes in some areas of this proposal and continue to talk to my guests and take your calls at 1-888-895-5727. You're listening to These Days on KPBS.
I'm Maureen Cavanaugh, you're listening to These Days on KPBS. Last Friday SANDAG members voted to approve a prospect to widen a 27-mile stretch of Interstate five from La Jolla to Camp Pendleton, and that will increase the freeway by up to six lanes in a certain section of that stretch. And that's what we're talking about right now, my guests are Gary Gallegos, he's executive director of SANDAG. Lisa Heebner, she's mayor of Solana Beach. Carl Hilliard, a member of the Del Mar City Council, and they are two of only three SANDAG members who voted against that I-5 expansion plan. Carl, tell us, if I-5 is widened to 14 lanes, what is that going to look like?
HILLIARD: Well, you're going to remove the banks that presently have landscaping and trees and replace them with concrete, and you're gonna build very high walls, and it will create a tunnel effect in terms of the drivers' perception of going on the freeway. It will just take away, the ambience, if you will, of the surrounding landscaping.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I'm wonder, Gary, how this [CHECK] for the TransNet tax that is going to pay at least a huge share of this project. Didn't voters vote to keep the footprint of the freeway as it is now and not larger as that 14 lane stretch would actually make it?
GALLEGOS: I don't think that voters were presented with the question you just asked. What voters were presented with in a big array of the TransNet program, what they were willing to pay for with their TransNet dollars, and so what we included in it is TransNet program were the 4 Managed Lanes of that's what the voters said yes to. I think it's also important to note that TransNet is just, you know, one of several different funding sources, and it's an important funding source. But I don't think voters were presented with, you know, do you want 4 or 6 or 8 or whatever the number is. What they were presented with was, you know, what this [CHECK].
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Lisa Heebner, I'd like to get your opinion on that.
HEEBNER: Well, I'd have to say I disagree. Of [CHECK] that doesn't mean eight or more, it doesn't mean eight and perhaps a couple others. It means eight. So I think the vote of the SANDAG board putting ten plus in a revenue constrained RGP is goes against the will of the voters. It's what was on the ballot, it's what was represented to all of us, and also to the many environmental groups and others who formed a large coalition to toward TransNet. They believed it was eight plus four. So to have ten plus four in there is quite troublesome to me.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And Carl?
HILLIARD: I agree. I think that the voters -- this was a close vote for TransNet too. And I think the voters may have turned the TransNet too down if they were told that we were going to replace the landscaping and freeways along our freeways with cement.
HEEBNER: And don't forget those walls, they're 10 to 42 feet high and will be blocking out all ocean views and lagoon views, so anything along -- [CHECK] will be obliterated.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: We're taking your calls, the number, 1-888-895-5727. Or you can go on-line at KPBS.org/These Days. Robin is on the line from Del Mar, good morning, Robin, welcome to These Days.
NEW SPEAKER: Good morning, I'm actually calling from San Diego, but I live in Encinitas. Of and I used to take the coaster more often. But it's gotten too expensive. And with the limitations of schedule and having to be stressed out on what time do they work to be able to make one, and the cost, what's gonna happen with this new plan if you're gonna expand transit to reduce the cost to make it possible for more people to take it?
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Thank you. Thank you, Robin for that comment. And actually, let me go to you, Carl, because I know that you are in the first comment that you made, you talked about the fact of rapid transit and public transit. Why do you think that rapid transit didn't play a bigger role in this expansion of I-5?
HILLIARD: Well, I'm not sure why. It should have. And to address the -- Robin's question directly, the cost went up, it followed the cost of gasoline. And the cost was increased because the cost of the gasoline went up. Of then when the cost of gasoline went down, the cost of the coaster did not go down. And that's being adjusted now. We found out that there is extreme price sensitivity. For example, when the little connector bus from the Sorrento Valley station that ran between the various businesses started costing a dollar a trip, ridership dropped 40 percent. So it's very important that we price transit accordingly. And there must be a recognition that all of the services, freeway, transit, require some public subsidy to work.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: So there was an editorial in the North County Times that basically applauded the SANDAG vote and said that, you know, the North County is just really not set up for a public transit. It's all set up to be very freeway based. And I'd like to get your feeling on that, Carl, and Lisa about -- is it possible that, you know, you actually need all these extra freeway lanes in order to really service the residents of North County? Lisa?
HEEBNER: I don't believe so. And I'm a coaster rider. I take the coaster as often as I can. And I do understand Robin's -- our caller's concerns with the schedule and the cost. And I do know, and it's one of the things that I do like about what the SANDAG board did on Friday, and that is that we have a lot of transit upgrades in the up coming years. 22 trains run currently, coaster trains on that corridor, and we're looking toward 44 very soon. So we'll be hopefully seeing coaster trains every 20 minutes. And come January is when the fairs are going to be going down. And instead of having four zones to look at that pay different rates at, there will be only three zones. So it's going to be a lot easier. I do think what we'll be able to do eventually is be competitive with the car, and replace many of our trips on the freeway with transit trips.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I see, I see. Now, let me ask you something, Gary. There was -- there has been a lot of public comment against this I-5 expansion. There have been town hall meetings and so forth. I'm wondering what kind of discussion went on between the members of SANDAG. Did they take that sort of strong opposition that's been mobilized in this plan into consideration as they were voting? Before they voted? Was there any discussion about that.
GALLEGOS: Well, you know, the board members reviewed a lot of what was happening with the -- again, this is a large 40-year plan that has a much bigger impact than just I-5. And so, you know, we've been working on this, we update them every three years, and no sooner do we stop, finish an update than we start to update the next one. [CHECK]. And so they discussed everything from the growth forecast, which we actually did a lot different this time than we had done in past years. So this has been before the board. But it did -- I guess the point is that it wasn't all about I-5
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Right, right.
GALLEGOS: This is about a large, you know, 40-year plan to gets us to 2050, that looks at the economic prosperity. There were goals that the board adopted, there was criteria that they adopted, and this plan's trying to meet all those pieces.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: But really my question is, there has been an awful lot of public, I don't know if you can say outcry, but there's been an awful lot of public discussion, and a lot of it has been negative, and a lot of it's coming from the North County. And it's been organized through the summer and through the fall. And I'm wondering what kind of impact if any does that have to SANDAG?
GALLEGOS: Well, Maureen, I've been in this business for 30 some years. These projects are never easy. You upon, a few years ago, we ended up having this discussion about the 125 goes through south bay.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Right.
GALLEGOS: 21 different alignments studied, [CHECK] these big public work projects are just complicated. And I think in the case of I-5, it happens that Caltrans is doing their environmental work at the same time that we're updating this over all plan. But we could look at state route 52 was debated when we did that. We started the environmental document in state route 52 in 1989, we finished the document. We're gonna finish the last piece of 52 in March of 2011. So these big projects, unfortunately, are tough. But they are important to the economic vitality of this region. And Interstate 5, 15, 805, and the railroad corridors are really our link to the rest of the world. And so I understand the debate that's happening, but I -- in my career, we could kind of go around the region and see that at different times in our history, we have had different debates in different parts of the region depending on where the improvements are being proposed.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: So let me ask you quickly then, Gary, where does this go from here now? After this vote, what happens?
GALLEGOS: Well, you know, the vote on Friday was to accept a network. Based on this network, we will put together a plan, the actual plan will be written up. There'll be an environmental document that's also developed result of the plan. We expect that we will bring that back to our board in the March, April time frame. The board, then, if they approve it for public circulation, we would circulate it to get public publish comment and public input. On the whole plan, again, I want to emphasize the whole plan, not just I-5. Then we would hopefully adopt a plan in the September, October time frame of next year.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And Lisa Heebner, I'm wondering, where does the opposition towards this plan go now? What have you heard? Are there going to be more lawsuits or rallies or town meetings?
HEEBNER: Well, I'm not exactly sure. I do know that we're waiting for the comments from the EIR that we already submitted and we'll see what those responses are from Caltrans. But I also want to point out that when the SANDAG board did do their evaluation criteria, they're looking at like projects compared to like project. So they're looking at them in silos, comparing only highways to highways, freeways to freeways, transit to transit. So they're loot looking at what is the best way of moving people and freight. Is it going to be transit, or is it going to be freeways? [CHECK] I think is slanted a little bit, and doesn't give the full picture, at the same time. The EIR did the same thing. It did not look at any other alternative methods to move people and to move freight. And I think that's what a lot of the comments are on the EIR, and we're looking forward to hearing what Caltrans, how they respond, and how hopefully they'll be doing those studies, and [CHECK].
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And Carl Hilliard, what comes next for the people who are opposed to this I-5 expansion?
HILLIARD: I think Lisa just nailed it. There's a lot to like about the plan that was adopted by the board. But there's a lot not to like about pureeing more concrete and destroying landscaping and scenic views. And I think we need to have a more balanced dialogue and debate about those issues.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now, just to be clear though, and I suppose this goes to you, Gary, how much is the over all cost of this project?
GALLEGOS: Well, I mean, that's what Caltrans is working on in their actually project level.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Right.
GALLEGOS: EIR that they're doing, and you know, as they say, I guess, the devil's in the details. There's still, you upon, what footprint do they pick? Do you have barriers? Do you separate the managed lanes with concrete barriers or do you separate them with a buffer, just a striped line on the road? All those pieces impact costs and so that's, you know, what Caltrans is working through and -- in terms at the project level, and so by the time they certify their EIR, we should have a better handle on the ultimate cost for what they're proposing.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I want to take one fast final call, Walter is calling from, I guess it's Del Mar. Good morning, Walter, welcome to These Days.
NEW SPEAKER: Hi, thank you. Real quick. We hear about -- let's assume this goes through. And now at the board, border, if you will, between Oceanside and Camp Pendleton, obviously, something has to be done to increase that capacity of let's say that done. Now Orange County is presented with a 50 percent increase in the, again, border, if you will, between Orange County and San Diego County. Is it time for the San Onofre toll road to reappear? How many billions of dollars would developers pull in in such case, so my question to you, sir, Mr. Gallegos, is what role have the developers been playing behind the scenes?
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Well, thank you for that, Walter, and I don't know if you can even address that. Of it sounds as though this process has gone on for quite some time with a lot of different input.
GALLEGOS: Lots of public input. I would highlight that the piece north of Oceanside, that that in the plan in order to enhance the capacity goes north, that that is listed in the plan as a toll road whereby it would be built based on the need, and the ability for tells to pay for the expansion.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Well, I tell you we are out of time. And you know, mayor Heebner, I was going to be asking you about Solana Beach's plans to hire consultants to advise it on negotiations for the sale of the Del Mar Fairgrounds, but we're gonna have to do that some other day.
HEEBNER: I've been watching the clock and wondering how we were gonna do that.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: We are completely out of time, but I want to thank my guests, Gary Gallegos, thank you.
GALLEGOS: Thank you.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Lisa Heebner, and Carl Hilliard, thank you so much for talking about this. And there were people on the line. If you would like to comment on this subject, please go on-line, KPBS.org/These Days. You've been listening to These Days, stay tuned for hour two. It's coming up in just a few minutes on KPBS.