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Less Freeway Pays For More Transit

— A plan to downsize the expansion of Interstate 5 in San Diego has freed up money to spend on walking, biking and rail transit. The Board of the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) made it official today when they approve a redistribution of $800 million in transportation funds.

A San Diego trolley.
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Above: A San Diego trolley.

The savings resulted from a decision by CALTRANS to expand I-5 by only four lanes. SANDAG had originally budgeted for a six-lane expansion. The $800 million in savings will be divided among three transportation programs in SANDAG’s 40-year Regional Transportation Plan.

The “Safe Routes to Transit” program will receive an extra $200 million, bringing its total funding to $700 million. Much of the money will go to create safe biking and pedestrian routes.

The remaining $600 million in redistributed money will go to smart-growth developments and rail-grade separation. “Smart growth” refers to housing and commercial development projects that are transit friendly. Rail-grade separation allows commuter trains to pass over or under roads, so that trains and trolleys don’t get stuck in car traffic.

The modification of the I-5 expansion will also allow SANDAG to expedite some transit projects. The first phase of the mid-city, light-rail line, which will run from downtown to San Diego State along El Cajon Blvd, will move up from 2050 to 2035. I still may not see it in my lifetime. Nonetheless, some people would call it progress.

Mass transit advocates have applauded today’s decision as a move to promote more transit alternatives in San Diego.

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