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SANDAG Bucks History Of Widening Freeways In New Transportation Plan

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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.

Speaker 1: 00:00 It has the potential to transform San Diego County more radically than almost any other initiative, but as with any major change, it's controversial. The vision laid out for the region's future transportation system involves no freeway, expansions and a huge investment in public transit KPBS, Metro reporter, Andrew Bowen watched the presentation of the plan to the San Diego association of governments or SANDAG. That's the people who will eventually vote on whether to put it on the ballot. Andrew, thank you for joining us, Alison, thank you. So now this is a longterm vision setting the agenda for the next 30 years. If it gets approved and implemented paint us a picture, how would it change our lives here in San Diego County? How would we get to work for example?

Speaker 2: 00:43 Well, the vision is for a lot more people in the County to be living a multimodal lifestyle. So let's say you're a family of four. Your household might share one car. Instead of having two, some days you might drive to work. Other days, you might carpool some days you might take a shuttle or a shared bike, let's say to a major transit station and then maybe another shuttle or another shared bike on your way to your final destination. After you get off the train or bus, maybe you're running a little late. And so you drive to work and you choose to pay for the HOV lane to avoid the worst of rush hour. And all of these choices are meant to be connected through what SANDAG calls the next OSTP next operating systems. So this would be some type of app or a platform interface that lets you know, all of your different transportation options, how much they might cost, how long they'll take. And the whole system is supposed to be informed with real time info on a traffic patterns on the availability of fleet drivers. Let's say those shuttles that are getting people to and from transit stations. And the overall goal is just to have more people living and working within walking distance or really close of a fast and frequent train.

Speaker 1: 01:51 No, the estimated cost of this vision is $177 billion over 30 years. How would it be paid for

Speaker 2: 01:58 SANDAG is setting a goal of getting about $2 in state and federal aid for every local dollar that it spends. So it's possible that most of that money would actually come from outside San Diego, but quite a bit of it would come from a local dollars. And part of this vision is that at some point in the future, the voters of San Diego County would have to approve a sales tax increase. SANDAG tried this in 2016 and they only got a 57% majority when they needed a two thirds. So a, you know, it's certainly a tall order. Anytime you're asking voters for money, it's, uh, you know, more tax dollars. It's always a really difficult fight. Yeah.

Speaker 1: 02:36 So as you say, it is a tall order and the mastermind behind this plan is SANDAG executive director Hassan criter. Here's what he said about it.

Speaker 2: 02:45 Soon as I got here, I saw a regional that was ready for change a region that deserved the grids transportation system and had the determination to make it happen,

Speaker 1: 02:55 Worth pointing out at this point that this plan is not simply to it, easier to get to work and avoid gridlock. It's designed to slow climate change, which is an approaching crisis. But talk to us about who own the current Sendai board supports this vision and, and who opposes it.

Speaker 2: 03:11 Yeah, well, just to, to your point, climate change is really, I would say the central motivating factor here. So SANDAG has tougher targets to hit with regards to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and a vehicle travel in this current plan that they're working on compared to the last time that they wrote a plan in 2015. So the standards are getting difficult, more difficult than a karata said that we couldn't just take the previous plan, make some tweaks and, and have it meet state climate targets. Um, as far as the supporters, um, we, uh, you know, it was frankly a pretty partisan divide. Um, there was a city San Diego city council, president Georgette Gomez spoke in favor of it, uh, national city mayor Alejandro Sotelo. So lease also liked it. Both of them spoke to the equity component of this plan. So, um, SANDAG really looked deep into some data to figure out which neighborhoods in which, uh, populations are least likely to have access to good transportation options.

Speaker 2: 04:06 And those were the areas where they tried to make the, the biggest and earliest improvements. The skepticism we heard was from several people, Oceanside, deputy mayor, Jack Fowler actually made a reference to the Jetsons and thought, well, the technology is going to improve. So maybe it will just be like the Jetsons in the future. And we won't need this big, expensive transit infrastructure. Um, we heard from San Marcos mayor, Rebecca Jones, uh, San Diego County supervisor, Jim Desmond's, both of them said they neither said they outright opposed this vision. They just are not quite sure about the price tag. They think it's expensive. And Desmond in particular mentioned the 78 freeway. That's been a longtime goal of his to just get extra lanes on there. And so I think he wants to see some more details about this vision for a new network of toll roads and managed lanes in the County that might just basically change the lane configuration on some freeways. So he's kind of waiting to see what happens with that.

Speaker 1: 05:02 So it seems like there's a lot of resistance to it in the North County, among North County elected officials, are there other elected officials who, who don't like this cut back on investment in roads and widening,

Speaker 2: 05:14 You know, she didn't speak in this in Friday's meeting, but district three County supervisor Kristen gas bar, um, has been a big skeptic of the, uh, sort of push to fund more public transit and not, uh, freeway expansions. She's a Republican, she sits on the SANDAG board now, but she's up for reelection in November. And, uh, her challenger Terra Lawson reamer has been a much more supportive of this vision to sort of try and transition away from just automobile infrastructure. And so, you know, a flip in that seat would mean not only that gas bar would lose her seat on the SANDAG board, but it would also create a majority on the County board of supervisors, which would mean that they could pick their representatives to SANDAG and would likely appoint someone else. Other Jim Desmond, who I mentioned earlier is a big skeptic of this vision as well.

Speaker 1: 06:01 The point you're making is that all of our regional leaders who are appointed to this board are the ones who are going to basically decide if it goes to the voters or not. And, um, so it will affect some of the November elections coming up for some of these leaders. Won't it. But specifically you mentioned the County supervisors, perhaps the mayor's race.

Speaker 2: 06:18 It was good. Yeah. And the mayor's race is probably the biggest one. So because of a reform to SANDAG a few years ago, the mayor has a lot more power now on the SANDAG board than previously because he or she Repart or they represent by far the most number of people in the County, Todd Gloria, the front runner in that race is very supportive of, uh, of this vision of, um, you know, reducing car dependence and trying to use less, uh, freeway widenings, um, that his challenger, Barbara Bree, not so much, she said, she told the San Diego union Tribune, um, after the COVID-19 pandemic, the process should be slowed down and, you know, to her point, however on the process has been slowed down quite a bit already.

Speaker 1: 06:58 And I understand that her son, a Kreider has recently donated to some of the campaigns of the candidates in favor of his plan, right?

Speaker 2: 07:05 Well, one of them, yes, he donated to Terra Lawson reamer $850 for her November, uh, challenge to the incumbent Kristin gas bar. And this is pretty unusual. Uh, we don't usually see, um, sort of the heads of agencies, um, actively supporting candidates that are challenging their bosses essentially. Cause Kristen gas bar is a member of the board of, uh, of SANDAG and is part of the boss that controls that agency. And so, you know, there was some discussion about that earlier in the, in the meeting. And, um, Jim Desmond said he was very, um, upset by this and thought it was unethical. Um, I think, you know, whether or not that becomes an issue in that particular race, um, I guess we'll have to wait and see, but, um, it's definitely an unusual thing, but I would say definitely not, uh, illegal and probably not unprecedented. Thank you so much, Andrew. Yes. Thank you. Alison

Speaker 1: 08:00 PBS, Metro reporter, Andrew Bowen, a more detailed version of the transportation plan will be presented to the SANDAG board in the spring and voted on by the board in the fall of 2021.

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Maureen Cavanaugh and Jade Hindmon host KPBS Midday Edition, a daily radio news magazine keeping San Diego in the know on everything from politics to the arts.