The San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) is finalizing the details of a tax increase to improve traffic in the county that will most likely be on the November ballot. The measure proposes a half-cent tax increase over 40 years that would raise $18 billion, which equates to collecting 23 cents from each person in the region every day.
Of the raised funds, 41 percent ($7.5 billion) will be spent on transit. For La Jollans, this means a Rapid Bus Line that would run parallel to the current local MTS bus Route 30. The investment of $105.5 million will be divided in capital expenditures ($54 million) to acquire the buses and $51.5 million for operations to pay for drivers, gas and maintenance over a 40-year period.
Thirteen of 21 SANDAG board members voted to draft the project on April 28, and board members will weigh-in on the final text July 8. If agreed upon, the San Diego County Board of Supervisors would review it for the November ballot.
SANDAG Executive Director Gary Gallegos said the Rapid 30 will be a new line, and will not just add more buses to existing routes. “The local buses will stay for people making short trips, but the Rapid Bus is designed to provide faster trips for the longer trips. It’s an addition to La Jolla’s existing Route 30. It’s faster because it doesn’t stop in as many places,” he said.
One of the challenges of the overlapping route is locating the bus stops in such way that the services don’t interfere with each other. The specific stops of the Rapid buses are still unknown. “We’re trying to avoid having all the buses punching up at once,” Gallegos said.
The road improvements program will take 14 percent of the funds. Gallegos identified three projects that will directly affect La Jolla traffic — a $144 million investment to add two general purpose lanes from the I-5 to the I-15; $278 million for missing connectors between the I-5 and SR 56 (west to north and south to east); and $1.5 billion to add HOV (High Occupancy Vehicle) lanes to the I-5, from the SR 56 to SR 78.
Gallegos said these projects may not directly affect La Jolla, but the Village’s traffic will eventually be improved by the overall implementation.
“Not many people live and work in the same community. About 3 million trips get made every day (to commute to work). 70 percent of San Diegans work in a sub region outside the sub region they live in, so an investment on I-5 or I-8 or on a trolley line that may not be directly in La Jolla, may help its residents because they may not all live and work in La Jolla,” he said.
Gallegos added that a new railroad line will be built from San Ysidro to Kearny Mesa along I-805. “For people traveling to those employments, if we shift some of them to transit it’s going to make traffic better on our surface streets,” he said.
A locally-directed fund will give 24 percent ($4.3 billion) to cities across the county for infrastructure improvements. Every city will start with $100,000 and then the rest will be distributed by population. “In the case of La Jolla, it would have to work through the City of San Diego,” Gallegos said.
Smaller percentages will be allocated to acquiring open spaces to reduce the risk of wildfires ($2 billion, 11 percent); bike and pedestrian improvements ($540 million, 3 percent); signal synchronization grants ($178 million, 1 percent).
The measure has received criticism from both sides of the political spectrum. Mayor Kevin Faulconer voted “nay” to the measure in the April 28 SANDAG board meeting pressured by environmentalists who believe the investment should be overwhelmingly for transit, and not road improvement.
“The extremes are opposed,” Gallegos admitted. “Right now, the plans are scheduled for July 8 final reading of the ordinance (with the SANDAG board), to pass to the County Board of Supervisors to put on the ballot. At that point, the campaign would be run by using private dollars from the private sector, and hopefully, that campaign would be detailed enough to help San Diegans understand its benefits.”
Asked whether he prefers a transit or road-based future for the region, Gallegos answered, “The key is to provide competitive choices, so instead of the government telling you you have to either drive or you have to ride transit, San Diegans can pick what works for them. To get there, we need to have transit that is competitive with the automobile. If the transit trip takes you an hour for something that you would be able to drive in 20 minutes, that’s not a very competitive choice.”
SANDAG research shows 66-70 percent of voters identify the project as a need in the county. To pass, the measure will need two thirds of the vote (66 percent).