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Getting Around San Diego: Changes Ahead


Aired 1/7/11

San Diegans will see plenty of construction on the freeways in 2011, but there’s even more planning going on behind the scenes.

San Diegans will see plenty of construction on the freeways in 2011, but there’s even more planning going on behind the scenes.

Vehicles travel north on Interstate 5 in North County, Jan. 7, 2011.
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Above: Vehicles travel north on Interstate 5 in North County, Jan. 7, 2011.

If you spend any time on the roads around San Diego, you know commutes are only getting more difficult. We live in a region that’s predicted to grow by more than a million people by 2050, so you may be wondering, how are we going to get around if things keep going on this way?

Gary Gallegos, Executive Director of the San Diego Association of Governments, or SANDAG, is very much aware of the challenge. He says in spite of the economic downturn, now is a great time to build roads.

“We are working as fast and as furiously as we can,” said Gallegos, “because we’ve found that this is a very attractive environment to build projects - if you’ve got money.”

Gallegos explains that before the recession hit, sales tax money used to build roads was going up five percent a year, but construction costs were going up twice as fast.

Today, local TransNet revenues have fallen from $250 million a year to about $200 million. That’s a drop of almost 20 percent. But, on the other hand, construction costs have fallen almost 35 percent.

“So, even though we’ve got less money, our money is buying more today,” said Gallegos.

That means the last section of State Route 52 though Santee should be ready to open this spring. $1.4 billion worth of work on Interstate 15 should be done by next year. That will complete the widening of the freeway north of Lake Hodges and south to Mira Mesa.

There is building up in North County to finish transforming Highway 76 from a two-lane country road into a four-lane highway all the way to Interstate 15. And down near the border, 905 will connect the Otay Mesa crossing to the 805 northbound.

People driving the coast along Interstate 5 won’t see much construction this year. That’s because CalTrans is working to wrap up an enormous environmental impact report for its plan to widen the freeway north of La Jolla by six lanes in coming decades.

Of course, not everyone is pleased with this idea. What about public transit?

Gallegos says the freeway widening is only part of the overall plan.

“Not only do we propose to widen I-5,” he said, “We propose to double track the rail line as well.”

Double tracking will allow more trains to run down the coast from Oceanside to downtown San Diego. Gallegos is reluctant to be specific about when all this will happen but, he says, hopefully in less than 10 years.

In the meantime, he predicts work to extend the two carpool lanes up Interstate 5 from Encinitas to Oceanside could get started in the next 5 years.

But Gallegos is thinking much further ahead.

“The big effort in 2011,” he said, “is to update our Regional Transportation Plan.”

That plan has to take into account something no regional transportation plan in California has had to consider before: global warming. The state has given San Diego a goal, and that goal is expressed in terms of individual people, like you and me.

Gallegos says SANDAG’s plan hopes to cut green house gas emissions by 13 percent per person by 2020. By 2035 the number goes up to about 18 percent per person.

That will take some radical shifts in the way we live. Perhaps we’ll chose to accept more dense communities, where it’s easier to get to work, school and shops.

But public transit is suffering from a severe shortage of funding. Gallegos says the region is spending hundreds of millions on upgrading the trolley lines, but he admits bus routes have had to be cut because of budgets.

Bicycling and walking currently make up less than 2 percent of trips. Gallegos says planners are hoping that by building more bike paths, more than 5 percent of people will bike or walk to where they want to go.

“Hopefully,” Gallegos said, “this will be an opportunity to get some exercise. Our strategy has always been to provide San Diegans with choices, competitive choices.”

Gallegos says there will always be the choice of driving alone down the freeway, it will just take longer, or cost more.

So enjoy your drive to work while you can, but perhaps that bicycle you bought for your child this Christmas will prove to be a more prescient present than you thought.

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Avatar for user 'stumo'

stumo | January 7, 2011 at 8:38 a.m. ― 6 years, 2 months ago

It is disappointing to hear the city/county can look into the future and decide that widening the freeways is the top priority. I understand mass transit has high startup costs, but you need to start somewhere, and think about behavior. Congested freeways + useful mass transit options = more people choosing mass transit, and therefore less congested freeways, so no need to widen them.

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Avatar for user 'Alison St John'

Alison St John, KPBS Staff | January 7, 2011 at 11:17 a.m. ― 6 years, 2 months ago

The response from Caltrans on this is that extra lanes on freeways ARE encouraging Mass Transit if they are ride share lanes.
The existing car pool lanes are one step in this direction, but future ride share lanes on Interstate 5 may be for buses or paying cars only.
But your comments are exactly right...

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Avatar for user 'Pottyba'

Pottyba | January 7, 2011 at 12:57 p.m. ― 6 years, 2 months ago

I think they need to put in a trolley line around the Miramar area going to East County. I commute from El Cajon to Miramar everyday & I spend 20 min sitting on Miramar road. Then sitting on the 15 freeway is another 20 min followed by about 35 minutes of sitting in traffic along the 52. I would much rather sit on a trolley line for that amount of time not wasting my gas, risking getting hit by everyone texting on their phones, and putting emissions into an already polluted San Diego.

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Avatar for user 'SDCyclist'

SDCyclist | January 7, 2011 at 3:43 p.m. ― 6 years, 2 months ago

Unfortunately, I have to drive for my commute to work. And there's only one way to go - the163 and the 805 North in the morning, from Hillcrest to Mira Mesa. Some days are better than others. I wish, WISH I could ride my bike but it's too far. I did my part for 4 years and worked from home, but I realize that's completely impossible for the majority of people. There is no public transporation to my job and I tried working out a bike route that I could ride one or two days a week (I am a cyclist, obviously), but that would take roughly 2 hours each way. That's not out of the question, but maybe just one day a week. I've heard countless people suggest the city install trains on the 805 or 15 (or both) but no one in the County ever seems to take this suggestion seriously. I think it's a genius idea. I would absolutely get up a little earlier each day to ride a train to work. I could even ride my bike to the train, ride the train with my bike, then ride my bike to work. I'm not a city planner but widening freeways as a solution to our problem? Really? We're really just in a boat with a hole and the boat is sinking, the hole's getting bigger, so the solution is to get a bigger bucket? I just don't get it. We need massive amounts of mass transit.

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Avatar for user 'brixsy'

brixsy | January 8, 2011 at 8:43 a.m. ― 6 years, 2 months ago

Too many people drive one to a car right now, I don't know how effective ride-share lanes will be.

We need an integrated system, so there are no gaps in transitioning from line to line. I am hoping that the Mid-Coast Corridor is well built, so that I can take it to Old Town and further on to SDSU (my route 3 times a week). I'd much rather take light rail than the bus (I've been taking this route for 2 years, it takes 1 hour to get from my door to school).

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