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Construction On Mid-City Rapid Bus Line Begins This Month

Above: The mid-city rapid bus line will utilize special bus lanes in the median along Park Boulevard to help speed up travel from downtown to San Diego State University.

Aired 6/10/13 on KPBS News.

Expect lane closures along Park and El Cajon boulevards during the next year as SANDAG completes a rapid bus line from downtown to San Diego State University.

SANDAG is set to begin construction this month on the mid-city rapid bus project. The bus line, funded by the region's TransNet sales tax and the Federal Transit Administration, will speed up transit from San Diego State University to downtown via El Cajon and Park boulevards.

San Diego Association of Governments

The Mid-City rapid bus line will connect San Diego State University to downtown via El Cajon and Park boulevards.

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)

The new route will have fewer stops, synchronized lights and, in some spots, separate bus lanes in the median. SANDAG officials say it should feel like using the trolley, just without the tracks.

"It's a new type of bus line that we really haven't done in San Diego yet," said SANDAG Director of Mobility Jim Linthicum. "It's going to be a bus that has a lot of design elements and features that resemble what the trolley has."

Bus stops along the route — many currently consist of signs with schedules — will get makeovers, adding shelters, seats, landscaping and more gathering space. They'll be some of San Diego's first stops to offer digital, real-time tracking of buses.

There's broad support for the project in City Heights, where residents have been vocal about needing more transit. Many students in the neighborhood rely on the bus to get to City College and SDSU. It will also intersect Centerline, a long-awaited bus line that will connect residents to job centers along Interstate 15.

But Beth Jaworski, the vice chair of Uptown Planners, the advisory board that oversees land use decisions from Mission Hills to University Heights, said there's still opposition in Hillcrest.

"Most of the seniors living in this area don't have cars and you'd think that, well, rapid bus would be a boon for them," Jaworski said. "But they're some of the most vocal opponents to it."

Residents in three senior facilities on Park Boulevard said they're worried about safety. Instead of boarding the bus at stops just outside their front doors, they'll have to cross busy lanes of traffic to board in the median.

During the public comment period last year, Hillcrest residents and businesses spoke out in opposition to the project, saying they favored streetcars.

"The overwhelming sense of the community was not a 'NIMBY' sort of reaction, but a sense that our community wasn't important enough to attract the kind of infrastructure and transit investment that people were eager to use," Jaworski said.

There was also concern about losing parking along Park Boulevard. Linthicum said new diagonal parking on side streets will result in a net gain of 14 spots.

An exact construction date is not yet set, but Linthicum said SANDAG will start by adding those parking spots in Hillcrest. Workers will then move east, with construction set to wrap up in about a year.

"There's definitely going to be some inconvenience because it's a large public works project," Linthicum said. "But the road access, the business access, the pedestrian access is all going to remain open."

SANDAG will hold informational meetings at 5:30 tonight at Grace Lutheran Church and 5:30 p.m. Thursday at 3727 El Cajon Blvd.

Correction: An earlier version of this story said Mid-City Rapid is funded only by TransNet. The project is also being funded by the Federal Transit Administration.

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