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Nearly 30 Years Later, Centerline Gets on the Fast Track

Above: City Heights resident Maria Cortez discusses her nearly three-decade wait for a bus route called Centerline at a 2011 press conference. Residents have fought for the long-delayed transit project since the 1980's, when it was promised to them in exchange for allowing CalTrans to extend Interstate-15 through their neighborhood.

City Heights residents who have waited decades to break ground on a rapid bus line through their neighborhood got a surprise win late Friday. The SANDAG Transportation Committee found unexpected funds that put the delayed project on the fast track to completion.

Aired 4/24/13 on KPBS News.

A decades-long wait for a mid-city transit project could be over in 2015, thanks to some unexpected funds.

Once Centerline is complete, passengers will be able to take and elevator down to special boarding areas at freeway level.

Special Feature Speak City Heights

Speak City Heights is a media collaborative aimed at amplifying the voices of residents in one of San Diego’s most diverse neighborhoods. (Read more)

Buses and passengers would be separated from freeway traffic at Centerline bus stops.

Caltrans promised the bus route, called Centerline, to City Heights residents in the 1980s after bisecting their community with Interstate 15. Homes were razed. Through streets were dead-ended, limiting ties between eastern and western City Heights.

Nearly 30 years later, the consolation prize could be fully funded.

The transportation committee, which includes former City Heights Councilman Todd Gloria, has identified funds freed up by savings from projects that came in under budget and a canceled $22.5 million study. Those savings are enough to finish up the design phase and construction of Centerline, which is scheduled for completion in May 2015.

Advocates of the project said they were stunned by the news. Just last month SANDAG budgeted only $11 million for the project. The new revenue source brings funding up to $23.4 million for the same budget cycle.

"We heard the $11 million was in the pipeline, but we didn't know about this," said Randy Van Vleck, who oversees transportation campaigns for the City Heights Community Development Corporation. "It was a big surprise to our office."

Van Vleck said the next step is fine-tuning safety designs, which he says is particularly important in this case. The project includes two bus stops that will load passengers at the freeway level. Passengers will take elevators down to the center median.

Planners intended for the design to speed up travel to job centers. City Heights CDC Board President Stephen Russell said the feature will have a big impact on mid-city residents.

"It'll connect us to the jobs in Kearney Mesa, in Sorrento Valley and in South Bay," said Russell, who's been advocating for Centerline for 15 years. "In so many ways it is going to be an avenue of opportunity for the people who live here."

The new allocation awaits final approval from the SANDAG board in May.

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