Sierra Club joins lawsuit against regional transportation plan


City News Service

The Sierra Club announced today that it joined a lawsuit against a regional transportation plan approved by the San Diego Association of Governments, and state Attorney General Kamala Harris indicated her office also intends to join the legal action.

The SANDAG plan lays out priorities for building roads and improving mass transit through the year 2050. One such improvement is the proposed widening of a 27-mile stretch of I-5 freeway from La Jolla Village Drive to Oceanside, with the cheapest alternative calling for eight general lanes on I-5 with four car-pool lanes protected by a striped buffer estimated to cost $3.3 billion.

Opponents have criticized the plan for leaning too far toward road construction and not enough on public transportation or the environment. They contend most of the transit improvements are delayed for several decades.

The Cleveland National Forest Foundation and Center for Biological Diversity sued in November to stop the plan.

“(SANDAG) could have set an example of how to plan for future transportation needs without putting public health and the environment at risk, but didn’t,” said Kathryn Phillips, director of Sierra Club California. “SANDAG’s plan will lead to more sprawl and traffic.”

The plan will increase pollution and worsen global climate change, according to the Sierra Club.

Harris filed a motion to intervene, an application to join in the lawsuit, her office announced.

“The 3.2 million residents of the San Diego region already suffer from the seventh worst ozone pollution in the country,” Harris said. “Spending our transit dollars in the right way today will improve the economy, create sustainable jobs and ensure that future generations do not continue to suffer from heavily polluted air.”

Her motion contends the plan’s environmental impact report did not adequately analyze the public health impacts of increased air pollution.

SANDAG officials have denied the claims. In response to the lawsuit, Executive Director Gary Gallegos said the plan presents a balanced approach, gives travelers more choices and meets environmental goals.

The organization, made up of the region’s cities, county government and other agencies, approved its $200 billion plan in October. It is required to update its vision for regional transportation development every four years.

An ex-parte conference in the case is scheduled for Wednesday before Judge Timothy Taylor at the San Diego Hall of Justice.