COAST CITIES — Returning and new SANDAG board members met for an information-only session Jan. 11.
San Diego alternatives Todd Gloria and Lorie Zapf both showed up for the vacant San Diego seat and Oceanside alternate Jack Feller filled in the vacant seat left by Mayor Jim Wood, who was recently voted off SANDAG by his fellow council members.
Despite cities’ internal debates on their representatives, the new SANDAG board moved forward with discussions.
The question is, how will the new board divvy up funds for regional transportation?
SANDAG has historically approved equal funding for mass transit, regional roadways and local streets. Recently, the prior SANDAG board voted in favor of awarding more funds to mass transit projects.
“In the past spending was one-third regional roadways, one-third transit, and one-third local streets,” Carlsbad representative Mayor Matt Hall said. “Recently more than a third is transit.
“Transit has equal or higher priority as anything else at the moment,” he added.
With new board members just settling in, it’s uncertain if SANDAG will continue to favor mass transit projects, but Solana Beach representative Lesa Heebner is one board member who hopes things continue in that direction.
Heebner said she is a strong proponent of mass transit. She added that focusing solely on increasing roadways and ignoring environmental impacts such as climate change is “last century stuff.”
Heebner said there has been a steady improvement in the region’s mass transit system over the last five years, but more funds are needed to expand and maintain countywide transit, which is already highly subsidized.
She said she is in favor of adding a quarter-cent to half-cent regional sales tax to create funding, but added that recent polls have shown that only 58 percent of voters support the tax increase, which needs a two-thirds vote to pass.
Heebner said she hears a lot of support from North County residents for mass transit and the benefits of reduced traffic time and a healthier environment.
“A lot of people believe in transit,” Heebner said. “They see that people need to have a viable alternative to cars.”
Currently, SANDAG focuses on transit for daily commuters. Heebner said she would like to see transit expand to accommodate travelers’ “last mile” and cover shorter trips between major transit stops.
Hall looks at regional transportation a bit differently. He said he supports a balanced regional transportation plan that includes equal funding for mass transit, regional roadways and local streets.
Hall sits on the SANDAG transportation subcommittee. He said he is confident in the rating scale SANDAG uses to weigh which projects should be funded, and is secure with the checks and balances Environmental Impact Reports provide.
“I support the plans SANDAG has in place,” Hall said. “I feel they are extremely balanced.”
Two major projects that were recently OK’d by the prior SANDAG board are the build out of the rail corridor and expansion of Interstate 5. Approved plans require that mass transit elements be added before I-5 expansion begins.
Representatives agree that regional transportation is an important and complex issue.
“There are 17 cities, 25 different streams of money, and all different ways of doing expansion,” Hall said.
On another note, the SANDAG 2050 Regional Transportation Plan is in litigations due to petitioners’ concerns, which include the failure to study greenhouse gas emissions. Litigations have not stopped projects that are currently in progress, but may impact future projects.