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SANDAG Shifts Funds To Fast Track Transit, Highway Projects

In this Feb. 6, 2014 photo, a driver enters onto the northbound Interstate 5 ...

Credit: Associated Press

Above: In this Feb. 6, 2014 photo, a driver enters onto the northbound Interstate 5 in California.

Board members of the San Diego Association of Governments on Friday approved funding to kick start two freeway widenings that agency leaders warn could violate state climate laws.

Staffers at the San Diego Association of Governments had proposed fast-tracking the planning, design and environmental clearance of more than two dozen projects, including a number of "complete corridor" studies on how to improve road, transit and bike mobility along a given highway corridor. The goal is to get more projects closer to being ready for construction so they can compete for state and federal grant dollars.

Listen to this story by Andrew Bowen.

Elected officials on the SANDAG board approved most of the recommended budget amendments, but ultimately supported an alternative plan put forward by Poway Mayor Steve Vaus and Escondido Mayor Paul McNamara. Their amended proposal eliminates funding to convert HOV lanes on Interstate-5 to paid express lanes and adds funding to projects that would widen congestion-plagued State Routes 67 and 78 in North County.

RELATED: SANDAG Wants More Rail, Managed Lanes In Transportation Plan

Reported by Andrew Bowen , Video by Matthew Bowler

San Diego County Supervisor Kristin Gaspar, who supported the move, said the proposal was an improvement from an earlier version presented three weeks ago that would have eliminated funding for two new COASTER trains. Those trains are expected to allow much more frequent service on the commuter rail line that runs from Oceanside to San Diego.

"There is not a roads-versus-transit debate to be had here," Gaspar said.

But SANDAG Executive Director Hasan Ikhrata told board members the proposed freeway widenings — long a priority for elected officials in North County — could make it impossible to comply with state laws meant to address climate change. The agency has been tasked by state officials with reducing car travel in the county by 19%.

"I think this will put the agency in legal jeopardy," Ikhrata said. "I will guarantee you that if we build these projects — which we don't have money to build, like I said earlier — this will increase vehicle miles traveled and greenhouse gas emissions."

Among the other budget amendments approved by the board were:

  • $40 million for environmental studies and preliminary engineering for a "San Diego Grand Central" transit hub near Old Town
  • $70 million for design and construction work to convert HOV lanes to express lanes on I-805
  • $30 million for environmental work to create transit-priority lanes on I-805 from SR-15 to SR-52
  • $72 million to purchase 47 low-floor trolley cars
  • $6 million for environmental and design work to stabilize the Del Mar Bluffs

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