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SANDAG Will Delay Transportation Plan Update To Meet Climate Targets

A San Diego Metropolitan Transit System bus is seen in this undated photo.

Credit: Metropolitan Transit System

Above: A San Diego Metropolitan Transit System bus is seen in this undated photo.

Board members of the San Diego Association of Governments on Friday agreed to delay by two years an update to the county's regional transportation plan to allow the agency to meet state climate goals.

SANDAG Executive Director Hasan Ikhrata told board members two weeks ago the regional plan update would have to contemplate fundamental changes to how residents move about the county, and that staff could not complete such an update under the adopted timeline. At Friday's meeting, when board members formally approved his delay request, he told them the action was a necessary risk.

"Whether you believe in global warming or not, this is about sustaining ourself into the future and meeting ... the law of the land," Ikhrata said. "This team, the SANDAG team, is ready to start working on our new vision today."

The revised timeline would have SANDAG releasing a conceptual framework of the plan's transportation network and policies to fund it by this November. The draft plan and its environmental analysis would be released between September 2020 and March 2021, with the board casting a final vote on the plan in November 2021.

RELATED: New SANDAG Exec: Climate Change Will 'Absolutely' Guide Transportation Spending

SANDAG is generally required to update its regional transportation plan every four years to be eligible for state and federal dollars that help build projects, such as the $2 billion extension of the Blue Line trolley from Old Town to University City. Ikhrata said the staff is working on getting state legislation passed that would allow the most recent plan from 2015 to serve as a placeholder during the two-year delay period.

At the same time, SANDAG is required under state climate laws to plan a transportation network that would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 19 percent by 2035, using 2005 emissions as a baseline.

For years, environmental groups have criticized SANDAG for not taking seriously the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from transportation. A coalition of those groups organized to oppose the regional plan updates in 2011 and 2015, saying those plans did not fund enough upgrades to public transit service and bike and pedestrian infrastructure.

RELATED: San Diego's Regional Transit Board To Have Bi-Partisan Leadership In 2019

Many SANDAG critics told board members they felt vindicated by the more honest discussion of change initiated by Ikhrata, who took the job late last year after his predecessor retired amid a scandal.

"Thank you for recognizing that we can't do business as usual," said Jack Shu, board president of the Cleveland National Forest Foundation, which sued SANDAG over its 2011 regional plan.

Earlier in the Friday meeting, SANDAG staff gave a presentation on the shortcomings of its 2004 sales tax measure, Transnet. Lagging sales tax revenue, as well as rising construction costs, have created a roughly $10 billion shortfall that SANDAG will have to fill in order to complete all the projects promised to voters by the measure's 2048 deadline.

Poway Mayor Steve Vaus, who chairs the SANDAG board of directors, said the report struck him as both bad news and good news.

"Bad news is construction costs are up, revenues are down," he said. "Good news is that this board and the public are getting the unvarnished truth."

Board members of the San Diego Association of Governments have agreed to delay an update to its regional transportation plan. The new timeline is intended to help SANDAG meet ambitious state goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from vehicle travel.

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