Tuesday, November 9, 2010
The State Senate Transportation Committee conducted the hearing in Solana Beach as Caltrans outlined its plans to widen Interstate 5 in San Diego's North County. We'll hear what was said, how far the plans have proceeded and take your calls about a bigger I-5.
Caltrans officials, working with SANDAG, have crafted a plan to improve mobility along the Interstate 5 corridor from La Jolla Village Drive to Camp Pendleton. Caltrans officials said the project will cost between $3.4 billion to $4.5 billion depending if one of the four alternatives are chosen. The comment period for the project's draft environmental review ends November 22.
KPBS Environmental Reporter, Ed Joyce
Senator Christine Kehoe, a Democratic California state senator representing the 39th Senate District, and a member of the Senate Transportation Committee.
Allan Kosup, I-5 Corridor Director, CalTrans
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I'm Maureen Cavanaugh, and you're listening to These Days on KPBS. After a summer of workshops to introduce the proposed I-five expansion plans to the public, Caltrans took its four alternative proposals to widen the freeway to a public hearing in Solana beach on Monday. The plans would expand interstate five from Del Mar to Oceanside to either 12 or 14 lanes including an express freeway within a freeway. The opposition to the plan has organized over the last few months, all the while Caltrans has gathered material on for a draft environmental impact study on the project. Yesterday state senator Christine Kehoe and Alan Lowenthal chaired a hearing of the state senate transportation committee in Solana beach to allow both Caltrans and the public to express views about the plans. Joining me now to talk about the meeting is my guest, KPBS environment reporter Ed Joyce. Good morning, Ed.
ED JOYCE: Good morning Maureen, nice to be here.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I want to let our listeners know they're invited to join the conversation. What have you heard about these I-five expansion plans? What is your take on the idea? You can give us a call with your questions and your comments. Our number is 1-888-895-5727. What was the purpose of the hearing yesterday.
ED JOYCE: Well, the senate committee on transportation and housing called this hearing, it was billed as an informational hearing, Christine Kehoe and Alan Lowenthal were there presiding over the hearing. There was a presentation from Caltrans, Gary Gallegos from SANDAG and also from then Mary Nichols the chair of the California air resources board also made a presentation of the effects of this project and how it relates to air quality and AB32, for example. Two of the three hours of the hearing was pretty much prescription, then the final hour was an hour of time for public comment.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now, was there an environmental impact study, the results of that draft report at least introduced?
ED JOYCE: It's a massive environmental impact report. One this happened pains. Some people have actually gone through it point by point. There's a lot that's covered in the EIR, the loss of 50 to a hundred homes, possibly in the mix. Visual impacts, the loss of views on I-5 from the north coast corridor from La Jolla to Oceanside, noise would be an impact, and then during construction, of course, you have the potential of -- for all the four alternatives issue not including the no build, its construction activity along the I-five corridor would be in phase, but you have air pollution, you have water pollution, you have impacts to the view sheds, you have staging areas for trucks. It's a massive project. There's a lot of information, a thousand pages, a lot of details.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now, we have pictures of the proposals on our website. People want to take a look. That's at KPBS.org. I'm wondering though if you might be able to describe just a little bit. There are four -- the four proposed plans, plus as you mentioned a no- build plan, which would basically leave things as they are. ; is that right?
ED JOYCE: Exactly. It would keep the highway the same with 8 General Purpose Lanes, Caltrans likes to refer to that in four in each direction, 2 Partial HOV lanes, one in each direction. Other than ongoing operations and maintenance, there are no other improvements to accommodate what they call future travel demands. The no build alternatives, there's an eight plus four alternative, they would add four managed lanes, again these are two HOV lanes in each direction on I-5 in this stretch. They'd be separated from other lanes with a buffer, which would be road strip striping. The second alternative is eight plus four. Same as the one I just mentioned, but the other lanes would be separated from the other lanes with a concrete barrier. The third alternative would add two general purpose lanes, one in each direction between Del Mar Heights Road and route 78, four managed, two in each direction, on this stretch of I-5, and they would separate the managed lanes from the general purpose lanes issue the leaderships that everybody else gets to use, with a buffer of road striping. Finally, the other alternative is what they call the ten plus four barrier, it's the same as what I just mentioned, the ten plus four buffer, but the managed lanes would be separated with a concrete barrier.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: So we are talking very good, actually, at describing that, I'm speaking with KPBS environment reporter Ed Joyce. We're talking about a hearing that took place yesterday in Solana Beach talking about these proposed plans to expand I-five from Del Mar to Oceanside. So what kind of feed back did Caltrans get from the people who spoke yesterday?
ED JOYCE: I would say two thirds of the people that spoke were opposed to this project on a variety of -- for a variety of ways. Oceanside city council member Esther Sanchez, for example, was against the proposal.
NEW SPEAKER(AUDIO RECORDING): The billions of dollars that is being proposed for this project does not seem to justify the benefits. For Oceanside, we have just received our comments from our experts which basically say that the impacts are huge and the benefits are minimal at best. Perhaps ten years ago, this project may have made sense, but since then many things have changed. Our citizens will take mass transit. We had an exodus of a huge number of our residents begin to take rail into San Diego. So on behalf of your residents, 18 of which will lose their homes and accidents at the very at least, please take these -- send this back. Thank you.
ED JOYCE: Ester Sanchez is also a member of the California coastal commission, which if any of these four options to build is approved would have to issue a coastal development bid for the project.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now even though there was overwhelming criticism of these plans, there were those who spoke out in support.
ED JOYCE: Yes, one of those speaking out in favor of the proposal was Ruben Borales with the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce. He said while mass transit is needed, expanding the freeway is also important.
NEW SPEAKER: But we also need infrastructure improvements if we're gonna keep traffic flowing, we hope you will consider that, and understand that the do nothing option just won't work for San Diego. We think it's very important that infrastructure investment along I-five to relieve the traffic congestion, the traffic waits that residents of San Diego and visitors of San Diego are facing every day. Thank you.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Okay, now that was Ruben Borales, and he was speaking on behalf of the regional Chamber of Commerce yesterday. Mary Nichols from the California resource board was at the hearing, what did she have to say about the air pollution impact of this?
ED JOYCE: Well, she weighs in, CARB's only effect in this project is related to AB32 and SB375, which have to do with air quality and greenhouse gas emissions. State and local agencies still must weigh in on this project, the only concern that carb has is with the greenhouse gas emissions. So the issue is not if growth, but how to accommodate it. And I think from what I understand, this expansion project is already included in how carb looks at what the air quality impacts are for the region anyway.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I'd like to welcome a new guest, state senator Christine Kehoe, represents San Diego's 39th district, and she is chair of the senate energy, utility and communications committee and was at the senate -- state senate hearing yesterday in Solana beach. Senator Kehoe, welcome to the show.
CHRISTINE KEHOE: Good morning, Maureen, how are you?
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Quite well. Thank you for joining us. Now, why did you decide to host the public hearing of this -- these proposed I-five expansions in Solana beach yesterday?
CHRISTINE KEHOE: I think after reading the descriptions of the public process that was going on, I thought there was a better way to do it. And I wanted to make sure that homeowners and business owners, regular citizens, had at least one hearing where both SANDAG and Caltrans would present an over view of this very large and important transportation project. So we called the hearing and asked SANDAG and Caltrans to present along with chair woman Mary Nichols from California air resources board, and I think it worked. I think it worked. Let me just tell you why. Well over 300 people attended. But more than that, in the audience were elected officials from the city of dell mar, Encinitas, Escondido, you mentioned Ester Sanchez spoke from the city of Oceanside, there were coastal commission staff there, and a number of people said to me, even, you know, professionals, we voluntary seen this kind of discussion. This is what we needed. And this was a good hearing.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Well, senator Kehoe, when you say it worked, what did it work to do?
CHRISTINE KEHOE: I think it worked to have both agencies present not only a description of the project but four different alternatives of it. So there isn't one single project at this point. And also the rationale for the project. And some of the impacts and mitigation that would have to take place in order to make the project, you know, more acceptable to the people of San Diego. We have to get a better understanding of exactly what's gonna be built and how much it's gonna cost. And what the environmental impacts are gonna be, and how will they be mitigated. We're still not there yet, but yesterday went a long way to explain to people in plain English what all those issues are about.
ED JOYCE: Senator Kehoe, good morning, this is Ed Joyce.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Hi ed, I saw you there. Thank you for coming up.
ED JOYCE: A couple things came up yesterday, one, we had the little interruption from the presentation from somebody in the audience who was claiming that the hearing was biassed towards the project. But that leads me into a question, senator, Esther Sanchez mentioned send it back when she was making that plea about this expansion project. There's not really a sending it back. And isn't it true that Caltrans has proposed this project and actually it's Caltrans that decides whether it's approved or not? Is this true and is this some kind of a strange regulatory quirk?
CHRISTINE KEHOE: Well, it's -- it's not a strange regulatory quirk. It is our process here in California. Caltrans is the lead agency in preparing the environmental impact report. And they have a legal obligation to go out and inform the public and receive public comments. And that's that deadline we were talking about, November 22nd. Individuals can respond to the EIR, cities, counties, the coastal commission, and others. Well, are the coastal commission weighs in in another way, I'm not sure if they're gonna do comments of so individual citizens and government agencies can respond to the EIR, and offer suggestions and criticisms that Caltrans has to justify what they're doing. But Caltrans in the end is the agency that signs off on the environmental impact report.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: We have a caller on the line. Senator Kehoe, and ed, we're taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727. Or you can go on-line, KPBS.org/These Days. Sarina is calling us from Mission Hills. Welcome to These Days.
NEW SPEAKER: Good morning, thank you so much for taking my call. My question is, if Caltrans signs off on the EIR, is this at all going to go to the voters? Because I think the news this morning said that SANDAG is taking 50 percent to pay for this from the taxpayers. I don't travel that route. And I think it would better San Diego to increase, emphasize public transportation. Because water seeks its only level, and if you expand by four lanes, if you expand by eight lanes, in 25 years you're going to need to expand again. Thank you for your comments and I'll listen off the air.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Sarina, thanks very much for the call. And senator Kehoe, do we get to vote on this?
CHRISTINE KEHOE: Proponents of the road think we already have.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Right, right.
CHRISTINE KEHOE: They said it was on the transnet list, and it was. To expand the I-five in general terms and when the voters voted for the sales tax increase for transportation projects, the I-five expansion was on the list. I don't know that there'll be another kind of vote. SANDAG has elected officials on the board who are elected by people in San Diego, whether you live in Oceanside or Encinitas or San Diego or national city. So ina I way, there will be votes on the road. There's also, you know, it's all tax dollars, there's state tax dollars, local tax dollars, our transnet money is locally raised. And there's also federal tax dollars. And I think one of the critical issues in this whole discussion is are we going to get the most benefit from every single dollar spent? Because we are talking about a multibillion dollar program of improvements here. And it is a daunting task to justify every single one of those dollars of that's what I'd like to see happen along with environmental projections that are adequate, because this is such a sensitive area.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: We have a new guest on the line. Allan Kosup is I-5 corridor director for Caltrans. And Allan, good morning, and thank you for joining us.
ALLAN KOSUP: Good morning, thank you for having me.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I want to get your impression on the meeting yesterday in Solana beach.
ALLAN KOSUP: I agree with the senator. I think it was a good meeting. I think for projects of this complexity that have so much, the highway, and the environment, and the rail and the environmental, it's really hard to attract people's attention so you can bring them through that vision. And I think yesterday we had that opportunity.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: One of the question that keeps coming up, Allen, from critics of these plans, is that.
Q. Any way that this project is not going to go through? Is there any way that it can -- Caltrans can decide at this point that it's not going to do the expansion of I-five?
ALLAN KOSUP: Well, I think one thing to remember is that the expansion of I-5 and expansion of the rail line is all part of the region's 20 year plan. So we really look to the region as a whole to decide how we move forward in transportation. So, you know, that's sort of one point. We make this decision in collaboration with all of the agencies, all the governmental agencies in the county. And summer one of the alternatives being studied is do no build, and I think yesterday we had the opportunity to share with people what are the impacts of not doing that, and I think there are impacts to the county as a whole.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: We are taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727. Good morning, Michael, and welcome to These Days.
NEW SPEAKER: Good morning, and thanks for taking my call. I've been attending meetings up and down the costal area, exploring these projects for years now, seen many presentations by Caltrans, and I just came back from a one month trip to Asia, and was in various cities in China and Taiwan, southeast Asia and Japan. And it occurs to me that the charter of Caltrans has really not explored any transition beyond just building massive freeways. Beyond all issues of environmental degradation and so forth that are going to be addressed in the environmental impact report, it seems to me that just the sheer movement of people culls for a different approach. And I really questioned whether or not Caltrans, although there's a no build option, there's various other options, I really question whether their charter allows them to freely explore the implementation of truly alternative schemes that would not impact the environment so much and it would -- move us toward the future with very effective mass transit.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Michael I'm gonna --
NEW SPEAKER: When I say effective mass transit, not something like coaster, but very high speed transit that stops in many locations.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Let me ask the question to Allan Kosup, and thank you for your call, Michael. Allen, how would you respond to that?
ALLAN KOSUP: I think one of the things we were all in agreement with yesterday, is we need to do things differently than we would have 30 or 40 years ago. I think between Caltrans and SANDAG, we feel strongly that we are moving in a new direction. And hopefully, a strong commitment to transit. Is massive transit the type of solutions for all the users that use that corridor? No, I don't believe it is. I-five is really unique in different types of users, commuters, beach users, trucks for goods moving. And I think that's why we think it's a number of different solutions, not just one solution. Of and the other thing that I would say is there are constraints in a corridor, certainly one of them is land use and densities out there, and folks go to different cities and see solutions that working but those solutions may not work in this particular corridor, given how the corridor's grown over the years.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I want to ask the question that Allen Sanchez broke out. Esther Sanchez, I'm sorry. From yesterday, and that is that things have changed in the last ten years, that a number of residents are now beginning to take rail the idea of using mass transit is really catching fire among our citizens. First of all, I want to ask both senator Kehoe and Allan Kosup, do you agree and could that actually be a solution to mitigate the need for this expanded freeway? Let me start with you, senator Kehoe.
CHRISTINE KEHOE: There's a transit element in the proposal as it stands now, that Allen who did a good job yesterday, Allen, explained. The rail lines will be improved, in some cases double tracked, and there'll be expanded bus service. I'm not certain from yesterday's presentation, even though it was, you know, almost 90 minutes, we couldn't get into, you know, all the details, how much that's gonna take off the road. It's an element. I think council member Sanchez is right that people go to transit under certain circumstances, if congestion gets too great, if prices on the transit are lowered they can save money from parking downtown, things like that, but I don't know that we know enough to really have that answer. I would like to see, although Caltrans has a program for transit improvements as part of the I-five expansion, I would like to see a more, you know, robust program, and it seems to me that most of the bulk of the money around the I-five expansion is actually going to more miles of lanes. And we might -- I think we should try to move that. But it's not an either or proposition. There probably should be improvements in both areas.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Allen do you see anymore room for more mass transit in this plan.
ALLAN KOSUP: Well, I go back to, you know, yesterday, we had the opportunity for executive director Gary Gallegos kind of lay out the 20/50 regional transportation plan for the region, and I thought one of the things he articulated very well was that a much stronger commitment to transit in the new plan. And we're moving away from highway widening, and he laid out a very robust transit plan of but that's a regional plan, and that process is going on right now. And again, the opportunity is different on the I-5 corridor than it might be in the middle of downtown for instance.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Ed, I want to go back to you, because you attended this meeting and you reported for KPBS on what happened there. And you also heard from a woman who apparently sort of gave one of the lighter moments, but also sort of summarized the opposition to this plan.
ED JOYCE: There was an elderly lady from San Diego, she brought some smiles, and applause, it was kind of a little bit of a break from the tension in the room when she started her comment upon. She summarized. Some of the key objections by most of those proposing the expansion plan.
NEW SPEAKER: I feel a little timid as a little gray haired woman standing up here challenging all of these authorities. But I'm gonna do it anyway. I share the concerns of the previous speakers regarding air quality and noise pollution. Which I know will be changed with the expansion of the freeway. I do not believe that pureeing more concrete and creating additional lanes for cars and trucks and buses will solve our problem with congestion and grid lock.
ED JOYCE: The kind of speaking to the issue that many of the opponents raised, if you build it, they will come. The minute that this project, one of these alternatives is selected and if it does proceed, that the volume of traffic and growth will fill that space very quickly.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I want to squeeze in one more phone call. Tom hay wood is calling from Solana beach. Good morning, Tom, and welcome to These Days.
NEW SPEAKER: Thanks very much for taking my call. Even to many of these meetings, there's overwhelming negative feeling towards this expansion. Some of the feelings are the air pollution that it will create, the particulate matter pollution that we haven't really talked about. And I think many San Diegans don't know that many of the visuals that you get on driving on I-5 now will be gone, once this takes place, there will be high walls developed so you won't be able to see the coast and the lagoons. I think this is gonna have a dramatic negative impact on our quality of life. And I think we need to stop building freeways some way, somehow, and I think now is the time.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Well, Tom, thank you for the call. We have to sort of wrap things up. Ed, let me ask you, what is next in this process here?
ED JOYCE: Well, the comment period for the environmental impact report closes November 22nd, and there's what Allan Kosup said yesterday, there was about a two-year administrative process for that draft, before that EIR reaches a point of approval.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: This remains a hot topic in San Diego. I want to thank you so much senator Christine Kehoe for joining us this morning.
CHRISTINE KEHOE: Thanks Maureen.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Allan Kosup, thanks for participating.
ALLAN KOSUP: Thanks very much.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Ed Joyce, thanks for all the information.
ED JOYCE: Nice to be here, Maureen.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And I want to let everyone know, if you'd like to comment, please go online, KPBS.org/These Days. Coming up, we'll hear why nature is good for your health. That's as These Days continues here on KPBS.