Friday, February 12, 2010
JOANNE FARYON (Host): To tunnel or not to tunnel - that is the question Coronado residents will be asked for a third time in twelve years. Traffic congestion between the San Diego-Coronado bridge and Naval Air Station North Island has been an issue for decades. Now, it looks like residents will be asked yet again whether building a tunnel to ease congestion is a good idea. KPBS reporter Sharon Heilbrunn has more.
SHARON HEILBRUNN (KPBS Reporter): For nearly 30 years, officials in the City of Coronado have studied the idea of building a tunnel under Fourth Street to help alleviate traffic in the city. Now, residents will have their say. The Coronado City Council has voted to put a measure on the June ballot that will ask residents if they want the City to continue studying traffic-relief options. Nearly $14 million has already been spent on the project, mostly through federal and regional grants and toll revenue. This would be the third tunnel-related advisory measure that Coronado voters have been asked to consider. The last vote was taken in 1998.
CASEY TANAKA: (Mayor of Coronado): Coronado is a small city, and we have a set number of issues that are really contentious or where people are on one side or the other and the tunnel is one of them.
HEILBRUNN: The San Diego-Coronado Bridge was built for 30,000 trips a day, but it's used by about three times as many drivers. Proponents of the tunnel say it will help ease traffic from the bridge to Naval Air Station North Island where congestion is heaviest.
TANAKA: The Navy base at Naval Air Station North Island has anywhere from 30,000 to 40,000 people driving in each day and it can be even more than that if there are three carriers or four carriers home ported. And so the problem is there’s one main way for them to get into Coronado, the bridge, and our traffic system, basically, is overwhelmed by the number of cars going to work each morning and we’re overwhelmed by the same cars in the afternoon rush hour when those people are going home.
HEILBRUNN: Building a tunnel could mean bringing back a bridge toll to help pay for the project.
TANAKA: The federal governments’ guidelines for when you're studying a potential project, you have to study all the possible funding sources. So approximately a year ago, we were at the point in the federal studies where we studied all possible funding sources, including the possibility of tolling revenue. If you put a toll on the bridge, what we studied was how much money could you generate and what percent of the total project could you pay for. And certainly there's a capacity for the bridge, if you put a toll on it, to pay for anywhere from say 20 percent or perhaps 30 or 40, depending on what toll you chose and so on. Another reason to think about the toll on the bridge is because that's the only way to really encourage carpooling.
HEILBRUNN: The toll could be up to $10 dollars each way, although Mayor Tanaka thinks it's unlikely that it would be that high. A tunnel could be built in Coronado without compromising, or shutting down, the streets above.
TANAKA: Tunneling is such a smart way to deal with traffic because you don't disrupt the things above where you're boring your tunnel and you can add new road space without having to condemn properties or disrupt properties.
HEILBRUNN: The measure is advisory, which means the Coronado City Council will take the results under consideration when deliberating whether to move forward with the project. It would take about three years to build the tunnel once the dirt was broken.
TANAKA: If the voters voted against this and said stop working on this project, we don't believe in it, I certainly would take that as a signal that we need to put that to an end.
HEILBRUNN: If voters agree to move forward, the next step for the City of Coronado would be to finish the Project Report and Environmental Documents required by the federal government. The City would then seek funding. According to Mayor Tanaka, Congress would ultimately have to fund at least half of a project of this magnitude. If a tunnel is built in Coronado, it's estimated that it would cost between $400 and $600 million dollars, and would require a mix of federal, state and local funds. We want to know if you think a tunnel would help ease traffic problems in Coronado. Log onto kpbs.org/sdweek and leave us a comment. For KPBS, I’m Sharon Heilbrunn.