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New trolley line to La Jolla, the largest project in the region’s history, launches to excitement

People board the new Mid-Coast Extension of the UC San Diego Blue Line Trolley during a grand-opening celebration Nov. 21.
(K.C. Alfred / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

$2.2 billion Blue Line extension connects the trolley system to UCSD, VA hospital, Golden Triangle, Mission Bay Park, Pacific Beach and Clairemont.

Trains began running early Nov. 21 on a long-awaited trolley line connecting Old Town to La Jolla that regional leaders are touting as a monumental project for greater San Diego.

The new 11-mile line, the most expensive infrastructure project in the region’s history at nearly $2.2 billion, brings the trolley to La Jolla, UC San Diego, Mission Bay Park, Pacific Beach and Clairemont.

Perhaps more importantly, every stop on the city’s other trolley routes gets a boost by becoming connected to those destinations and others such as the Westfield UTC mall and the VA Medical Center.

Local officials have chosen to use the moniker Mid-Coast Extension of the UC San Diego Blue Line Trolley as the official name of the new line. Many community leaders refer to it simply as the “La Jolla line” or the “UCSD line.”

The nine-station route fixes flaws in local transit by connecting the trolley system to the region’s largest university — UCSD — and No. 1 employment center — University City and the Golden Triangle.

“It is creating new jobs, new opportunities, new access to health care and more educational opportunities for so many residents of the San Diego-Tijuana region,” said National City Mayor Alejandra Sotelo-Solis.

$2.2B project, which opens Nov. 21, connects region’s No. 1 job center, largest university to mass transit

Speaking to thousands gathered at UCSD’s Warren Field to celebrate the new line, Sotelo-Solis said that 20 years ago as a UCSD student she spent two hours a day getting to campus to pursue her dream of a college degree.

“What took me two hours from National City — bus line, trolley line and walking up Gilman Drive — now takes less than 40 minutes,” she said. “Now those dreams will be even easier to meet for the next generation of workers and students.”

The new trolley line runs through UC San Diego on its opening day Nov. 21.
(K.C. Alfred / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

UCSD Chancellor Pradeep Khosla said the new rail line will help the university shed its image as an isolated campus that most San Diegans never see, transforming it into the “public” university it was always meant to be.

“It’s not a game-changer, it’s a dream come true,” he said.

Large rail bridges built recently over parts of the campus to accommodate the new trolley line also are a boost, Khosla said.
“It adds a little pizzazz to the campus and makes it more exciting.”

New line brings mass transit closer to San Diego’s beaches, but critics worry about distance, safety

Hundreds of residents took advantage of free rides all day on the new line and the rest of the trolley system. Local leaders said they hope the promotional effort let people see how the newly expanded trolley system could fit their lives.

La Jolla resident Keith Wahl was enthusiastic.

“Right now I’m working from home, but I see a lot of utility in this for getting around,” he said. “I’m a favorable advocate of it. I think it will bring a lot of people up to the university, and it’s great for the VA patients.”

Wahl and his wife began their journey around 8 a.m. from the new line’s final stop at Westfield UTC, riding it down to Old Town for breakfast. Then they headed back up, he said.

University City resident Sam Wu said: “I think for me it’s a one-time thing because it’s the first day of the train. It’s convenient, but for my work I am close to where I live.”

Wu said he probably wouldn’t use the new line again until his parents visit and want to go to dinner in downtown San Diego or Little Italy, places that are easier to get to by trolley than by car.

The new line took 20 years of planning and five years of construction, which included overcoming many hurdles, such as bridges and tunnels and overpasses that had to be created in challenging spots.

“I’m amazed at the engineering and how they pulled it off,” Wahl said.

People ride the Mid-Coast Extension of the UC San Diego Blue Line Trolley during its grand opening Nov. 21.
(K.C. Alfred / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Mira Mesa resident Lester Dronick said he was excited to ride the new line and suggested that local planners begin focusing immediately on an extension to the Miramar area.

“I like mass transit and I use it a lot, especially as a senior,” said Dronick, 71.

University City couple Matt and Heather Eisenberg, who rode round trip to Old Town, said they’re not sure what they think of the new trolley.

“I think there’s pros and cons,” Matt said. “Are they going to hire increased security for all the people who will now be making it up into those neighborhoods more easily?”

Heather said she’s heard skeptics say that people won’t embrace the new trolley, but she said millennials typically have a more positive attitude about mass transit than older people.

El Cajon resident Joe Cortez rode the trolley on its first day because he was curious to see how it might change commuting patterns, especially for UCSD students.

Cortez drives a bus near the campus and said he thinks many students will shift to the trolley because it’s faster.

“I’ve been watching the progress of the trains, so I’ve been looking forward to seeing this,” he said.

An estimated 60 percent of UCSD students and faculty already reach campus by some mode of transportation other than driving a vehicle, university officials say.

UCSD students receive free passes for all public transit as part of the student fees they pay, making local officials optimistic that students will ride the new trolley in large numbers.

Encinitas Mayor Catherine Blakespear, who leads the county planning agency that coordinated construction of the new line, noted that planning for the project began decades ago, making it crucial that local residents let their elected officials know now what kinds of projects they’d like to see built in the future.

For details on the new line, visit KeepSanDiegoMoving.com/MidCoast.