UPDATED APRIL 17: Responding to trolley bridge concerns, SANDAG director ‘optimistic’ compromise can be reached


Since this story was posted, SANDAG has placed discussion of the Mid-Coast Corridor Transit Project and trolley bridge alignment on its May 9 board meeting agenda. The meeting, open to the public, will be at 10 a.m. in the SANDAG board room, 7th Floor, 401 B Street, downtown San Diego.

By Pat Sherman

In an interview with

La Jolla Light

last week, San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) Executive Director Gary Gallegos responded to questions about the currently proposed location of a bridge crossing Interstate 5 that will move the trolley north to a station at La Jolla Village Square mall, and on to the UC San Diego campus, VA Medical Center and Westfield UTC mall.

The current alignment is being contested by residents of Cape La Jolla Gardens (CLJG) condo complex, the northwest corner of which would be just 120 feet from the trolley tracks, as currently proposed.

Mormon temple representatives met with Gallegos and San Diego County Supervisor Ron Roberts on April 23 2013, months before a series of workshops were held in the UTC area showing residents a bridge location that was 360 feet north of what is now being proposed (represented by a blue line in the above diagram). The majority of UTC residents attending the workshops approved of this alignment.

However, e-mails obtained by the


and by CLJG residents show that during the meeting with Gallegos and Roberts months earlier, temple representatives were advocating to shift the bridge further south — though it was already farther from the temple than to the CLJG complex.

In an April 25 e-mail to Gallegos and Roberts, Luke Rothey, who oversees special real estate projects for the Mormon Church, thanked Roberts and Gallegos for “meeting with us to discuss a mutually agreeable alignment and flyover design,” going on to request electronic versions of exhibits shared during the April 23 meeting.

The currently contested alignment (shown in green above) was approved for insertion into the project’s current draft environmental document by the SANDAG board in November. Cape La Jolla Gardens wasn’t notified of the change impacting its complex until Nov. 13, just two days before the SANDAG board voted to approve the change.

Gallegos said LDS representatives expressed concern about the bridge blocking views of its temple, via its obtrusive straddle bent design.

Straddle bents — large, wide concrete beams supported on each end by two columns — are used to support bridges over long spans where a single column design conflicts with facilities below. They are often used to avoid placing a single column between highway lanes.

“It’s basically a bridge that holds up a bridge so you can span a longer distance,” Gallegos explained, adding that District 1 City Council representative Sherri Lightner also asked SANDAG to eliminate all straddle bent construction.

Gallegos said SANDAG met privately with other institutions in the area facing potential impacts from the trolley expansion, including the Lawrence Family Jewish Community Center, UCSD and Scripps Health, “all in an effort to try to get input and understand where folks are coming from.”

Presented with the northern-most bridge alignment (the blue line) — at the time one of several locations along I-5 designed with bulky straddle bents — Gallegos said Mormon temple officials expressed concern “that where the bridge crossed it was going to shield the view of the temple if you were headed northbound (on I-5). … What we told them at that meeting is we don’t know what if anything we can do to move it, but we’ll take a look at it.”

Gallegos said SANDAG made a similar concession for Scripps Health, moving the entire trolley line from the north side of Voigt Drive to the south side because electromagnetic fields generated by trolley would “cause problems” for Scripps Memorial Hospital. In addition, he said a popular garden center on Morena Boulevard (Armstrong) will have to relocate to make way for a parking lot serving trolley riders, despite a similar protest from hundreds of its customers.

Gallegos said he “challenged its engineers” to eliminate the straddle bents and shift the UTC bridge southward, “making sure that as we looked at all our environmental studies that we were not going to cause any permanent, significant impacts. … We didn’t promise or tell the Mormons anything other than ‘We hear your comment, we’ll take a look at it.’ Much like we heard the comment from Scripps hospital that they were concerned about the electromagnetic fields … we did the studies and determined that we could move the bridge further south — and our studies didn’t reveal that there were going to be any permanent, significant impacts. … When (our engineers) came back and said, ‘here’s the options,’ that’s what we presented to the board.”

Despite its engineers’ contrary conclusion, Gallegos said SANDAG is now considering the merit of feared impacts to CLJG residents.

“I respect that the community of Cape La Jolla says they think that it’s significant, I respect their viewpoint,” he said.

Asked whether the I-5 bridge alignment in UTC would be placed back on the SANDAG board agenda for further consideration, Gallegos said the matter is up to SANDAG’s executive committee.

“The executive committee through the board chair sets (the agenda),” Gallegos said. “It’s up for discussion when we go through the agenda to add an item to bring (it) back to the board to go through how we landed where we landed, and that will either happen in May or the very first meeting in June. …

“We’re always looking for ways to try to minimize the impact and so I remain optimistic that we’re going to find a good solution to this,” Gallegos added. “We have a lot of engineering work that still remains to be done and our engineers are looking at this right now to see what our other options are.”

Asked if the bridge could be moved back to the northern (blue) alignment and reduce visual impacts to the temple by building a bridge without a straddle bent deisgn, Gallegos said, “there may be a way we can do that. … I don’t know that yet.

“One of the challenges that you have in these environmental documents is we need to do enough engineering to satisfy ourselves that we can do this, but we don’t do all the engineering because it’s expensive,” he said. “We still haven’t done a bunch of drilling to make sure we totally understand the geology of the stuff.”