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SANDAG Bucks History Of Widening Freeways In New Transportation Plan

A conceptual rendering shows a re-imagined San Ysidro Transit Center as part of SANDAG's vision for the 2021 regional transportation plan.
San Diego Association of Governments
A conceptual rendering shows a re-imagined San Ysidro Transit Center as part of SANDAG's vision for the 2021 regional transportation plan.
The regional transportation planning agency wants to make big investments in trains and buses while also creating a new network of toll and HOV lanes on freeways.

Officials with the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) on Friday presented its vision for the county's next long-term transportation plan, marking a sharp departure from previous plans with no projects to widen freeways.

The presentation got a mostly positive reception from the elected officials who sit on the agency's board of directors — though some were skeptical of its estimated cost and the feasibility of shifting commute habits away from single-occupancy cars.

SANDAG Bucks History Of Widening Freeways In New Transportation Plan
Listen to this story by Andrew Bowen.

SANDAG Executive Director Hasan Ikhrata, who took the helm just 20 months ago after decades of work in Los Angeles, said the new approach to transportation was the only way San Diego County could meet strict climate targets mandated by the state and avoid LA-style congestion.


"San Diego is a great place to live, and we want to keep it that way," Ikhrata said. "Since I got here, I saw a region that was ready for change. A region that deserved the greatest transportation system and had the determination to make it happen."

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While the plan does not include any freeway widenings, it does envision a new network of toll and carpool lanes that would be constructed on freeway shoulders or converted from existing general-purpose lanes. SANDAG staffers said some portions of rural highways may also be realigned for safety improvements.

The plan relies heavily on public transit to meet its goal. One major investment would be a project to move the COASTER rail tracks away from the slowly eroding Del Mar bluffs toward the Sorrento Valley employment hub. Others include a new north-south commuter rail line that would run through central San Diego and a host of new rapid bus lines.

The rough estimate for the plan's cost is $177 billion over its 30-year timespan, and funding would depend on voters approving a sales tax increase at some point in the future.


National City Mayor Alejandra Sotelo-Solis praised the plan, particularly its emphasis on correcting the unequal access to good transportation options for disadvantaged communities.

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"Access to good jobs, access to education, access to health care — these are all things that we all believe in as part of this American dream to strive for the best for our family and truly have that upward mobility and equity," Sotelo-Solis said.

Among the skeptics of the vision is County Supervisor Jim Desmond, who said his North County constituents would not be leaving their cars behind anytime soon.

"We're much more spread out and we're not as densely populated as other areas of the county," Desmond said. "So I want to make sure that North County gets its equitable share and say in this."

SANDAG staffers expect to present a more detailed draft of the transportation plan, along with its environmental impact report, this coming spring. Board members are set to vote on adopting the plan in the fall of 2021.

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Approval from the board is likely to hinge on the outcome of some key elections this November — namely San Diego mayor and District 3 county supervisor. Assemblymember and mayoral frontrunner Todd Gloria has spoken in favor of the plan, while underdog candidate and City Councilmember Barbara Bry told the San Diego Union-Tribune she was not sold on it.

SANDAG board member and District 3 Supervisor Kristin Gaspar has expressed a preference for funding highway expansions over public transit. Meanwhile her challenger, Terra Lawson-Remer has spoken in favor of SANDAG's current path of investing heavily in transit.

A victory from Lawson-Remer would mean Gaspar would lose her seat on the SANDAG board — and it would create a Democratic majority on the board of supervisors. This means Desmond could be voted off the SANDAG board, as well.