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MTS Leaders Discuss Possibilities For Transit Ballot Measure

A Blue Line MTS Trolley train in Barrio Logan, San Diego, Feb. 21, 2018.

Credit: Matt Hoffman

Above: A Blue Line MTS Trolley train in Barrio Logan, San Diego, Feb. 21, 2018.

Metropolitan Transit System leaders Thursday debated what public transit improvements should be part of a tax measure that could end up on the 2020 ballot.

MTS is proposing a half-cent sales tax expected to generate about $24 billion dollars over 50 years. One big question is whether the ballot measure will fund a new trolley line from Chula Vista to Kearny Mesa, or whether it will focus more on improving the existing bus and trolley network.

All the funding scenarios discussed Thursday included a host of improvements to the bus and trolley system, including new rapid bus routes, more frequent service, expanded hours, free passes for youth and additional security and amenities at transit stations.

"Our goal is clear in terms of increasing ridership, providing more opportunities, getting the environmental benefits (and) congestion relief," said County Supervisor and MTS board chairman Nathan Fletcher. "Now we're really drilling down to what is the mix of buses versus trolleys versus other options that can achieve that goal for the entire MTS service area."

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Board members reviewed two draft project lists, only one of which included funding for construction of the new trolley line, which would run on existing tracks from San Ysidro to Chula Vista then branch off to Southeast San Diego, Mid-City and Mission Valley. The "Purple Line" has been extremely popular in the public outreach events that MTS has conducted over the past several months.

But the trolley line is also by far the most expensive project on the wish list — expected to cost more than $8 billion — and it would not start serving passengers until 2045. The project list that did not include the Purple Line construction used that money to fund a host of additional bus and trolley service improvements.

There is also some uncertainty surrounding exactly where the Purple Line would be built. The San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG), which is responsible for the bulk of countywide transportation planning and funding, conducted a study in 2017 that looked at building the trolley mostly along Interstate-805.

SANDAG Executive Director Hasan Ikhrata, however, is pushing for an alternative alignment that would run through existing neighborhoods. Such an alignment would likely be more convenient for passengers and attract greater ridership but would also cost significantly more.

"There is only one Purple Line that would work great for San Diego County," Ikhrata told MTS board members Thursday. "There is one alignment, and it cannot be limited by the amount of money or the right-of-way. We're going to do it right."

If MTS opts not to fund full construction of the Purple Line, it may opt to fund engineering and environmental work to get the final project closer to being shovel-ready.

Listen to this story by Andrew Bowen.

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Andrew Bowen
Metro Reporter

opening quote marksclosing quote marksI cover local government — a broad beat that includes housing, homelessness and infrastructure. I'm especially interested in the intersections of land use, transportation and climate change.

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