$ 160 billion plan to expand bus and rail service puts city leaders in battle with housing density

Leaders representing Solana Beach, Coronado and other cities in the San Diego area raised concerns Friday over a $ 160 billion plan to expand transit and overhaul the area’s highway system. until 2050.

Solana Beach Mayor Lesa Heebner and others have been hesitant to add dense urban housing around future stations to serve a 200-mile high-speed commuter train between Oceanside and the Tijuana border.

Cities should be allowed to retain their “uniqueness,” Heebner said Friday at a public meeting of the board of directors of the Association of the Government of San Diego, or SANDAG, the transportation planning agency that has drafted the plan.

“Cities are the ones that know each other best,” she said. “We would like to create as many zones as possible close to public transport, but that is not always possible.”

Solana Beach, Coronado, Imperial Beach and Lemon Grove sued SANDAG last year in an attempt to reduce the number of new homes cities are expected to accommodate over the next decade. A San Diego Superior Court dismissed the case in February, saying the government agency’s housing allowance was not subject to judicial review. Towns appealed the decision in April.

Coronado adviser Mike Donovan suggested that approval of SANDAG’s transport plan be put on hold as the legal battle unfolds. The idea was flatly rejected by the 21-member board of directors, the majority of whom support the agency’s vision.

San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria praised the 30-year plan for its “ingenuity,” especially in comparison to SANDAG’s previous efforts. The agency made a sharp political turn after a change of management in 2018.

“It’s more than a transportation plan,” Gloria said at Friday’s meeting. “It is an opportunity for economic development and job growth.”

The basis for the plan is a roughly $ 80 billion commuter train system that could travel up to 120 miles an hour and include a dozen new stations. Experts generally agree that the success of the rail plan will depend on building new apartments, as well as improving pedestrians and bicycles, close to public transport stops.

SANDAG predicts that its plan would increase the use of public transport among commuters from 3% before the pandemic to around 13% by 2050. The agency also said the number of people driving alone to work will increase. from about 80% to about 62%.

The change would allow the region to meet state-mandated targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions while providing faster transportation for those who cannot afford a car, said officials. responsible for SANDAG.

“I have a 30-year career, and by far this is the proudest moment for me,” Hasan Ikhrata, executive director of the agency, said on Friday of the development of the plan.

Public testimony at the hearing overwhelmingly supported the vision, which is largely dominated by environmental groups, social justice activists and labor unions.

Gretchen Newsom, political director of Local 569 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, called the plan a “major achievement.”

The plan also provides more than $ 40 billion to overhaul highways by expanding “managed” lanes that serve buses, ridesharing and paying customers. The system, which is already in use along parts of Interstate 15, would be extended to all major highways in the region.

SANDAG is taking public comment until July 30 on its proposal, with public forums scheduled during the summer. A draft environmental review document will then be released for detailed review and final adoption expected by the board before the end of the year.

However, the $ 160 billion transportation vision currently has no funding and almost certainly depends on securing public approval to raise taxes. A voting measure could be before San Diegans as early as 2022.

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