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Trolley Extension Gets $1 Billion From Transportation Department

Photo by Megan Wood

A blue line trolley departing from America Plaza, May 10, 2016.

Aired 9/15/16 on KPBS News.

The trolley extension to UC San Diego is described as the largest public transit project in the history of the region. The federal government has now committed to covering about half of its full cost.

Left to right: San Diego County Supervisor Ron Roberts and Carolyn Flowers, acting administrator of the Federal Transit Administration, hold a $1 billion check, Sept. 14, 2017.

The San Diego trolley extension to UC San Diego got a $1 billion boost Wednesday from the U.S. Department of Transportation, in what was described as the largest public transit project in the history of the region.

The Federal Transit Administration grant will cover about half the cost of the project, with the other half expected to be funded through the TransNet half-cent sales tax. The 11-mile Mid-Coast Trolley extension will extend the existing Blue Line trolley service from the Santa Fe Depot downtown into the University City area.

The announcement was made on the UCSD campus with Federal Transit Administration Acting Administrator Carolyn Flowers and officials from the San Diego Association of Government and Metropolitan Transit System.

"FTA is proud to partner with San Diego to bring new transit options to this growing region," Flowers said. "With the population along the mid-coast corridor expected to grow nearly 20 percent in the coming decades, this trolley extension will offer a much-needed alternative to traffic congestion in the years ahead."

The new trolley line will include nine new stations serving the edges of Mission Beach and Pacific Beach, the VA Medical Center, UC San Diego, the business and commercial districts along Genesee Avenue and the Westfield UTC shopping center. Groundbreaking is scheduled for Oct. 22, with service expected to begin in 2021.

"The Obama Administration is committed to investing in transportation projects that improve mobility and provide ladders of opportunity for residents," Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in a statement. "San Diego's Trolley extension will do just that by helping thousands of transit riders to access employment, education, healthcare and other important services."

County Supervisor Ron Roberts, who also chairs the SANDAG board of directors, said the trolley extension had been planned since 1987.

"I've reminded people of that over the years many times," he said. "What we're about to undertake is the largest transit project that’s ever been done in San Diego County. This is a big one for us."

SANDAG is currently asking county voters for a half-cent sales tax increase to fund transportation projects. Appearing on the ballot as Measure A, the tax increase could be used to attract matching federal and state dollars.

Some environmental groups oppose Measure A, arguing its funding of certain highway expansions is inconsistent with the county's goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions by reducing dependence on cars.

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