ESCONDIDO — A massive investment proposed by the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) has little support among the City Council.
During its regular meeting Wednesday, Mayor Sam Abed shredded the aggressive plan to invest $18.2 billion as part of San Diego Forward, a regional transportation initiative looking toward 2050.
Abed is on the SANDAG Board of Directors and serves on SANDAG’s Regional Planning Committee, while councilmen John Masson and Ed Gallo are alternates. SANDAG meets later this month.
The proposal includes widening freeways, expanding transportation routes, trolley lines, double-track rail lines, adding 160 miles of managed lanes, new HOV and highway connectors, 275 miles of bikeways throughout the county and creating 1.5 million acres of open space.
Abed and the council, however, do not favor the plan as the city has been burned in the past by SANDAG of promises to expand Highway 76, which was promised nearly 30 years ago. The highway has yet to see any money for straightening and expansion.
“The sales pitch from SANDAG was to widen Highway 76, take the curves out, straighten it out because they needed the North County votes,” Gallo said. “Here we are almost 30 years later and guess what, Highway 76 isn’t finished yet. The big dog on the block, the city of San Diego, says we have to have this mid-city trolley line. Meanwhile, we are up here in North County and Highway 78 is a bottleneck. We have to fight for everything. We are supposed to get a third of everything.”
SANDAG is aiming to put on the November ballot a measure to increase the TransNet tax to one-half cent to pay for the upgrades.
If passed, the city is expected to receive an additional $3.5 million on top of the current $3.3 million from SANDAG to improve and maintain its transportation system.
Other than failed promises, Abed said SANDAG is altering its increase for public transportation to 50 percent of the funds, which leaves half to move working residents and visitors on the roads.
Although the council is not against public transportation, they said too much is being proposed on services not heavily used in North County.
Another issues, perhaps the biggest, is the council is not sold SANDAG will keep its end of the bargain and filter funds to widen state Route 78, which the council says is the most congested highway in the county.
In addition, funds would also be used to improve its intersection with Interstates 5 and 15. Under the new proposal, 14 percent would be allocated to freeways.
“My concern with 14 percent funding for the freeways, it will not last us,” Abed said. “The cost of building the 78 is about $1.5 billion with the 5 and 15 intersections. For the next 40 years, we will not have a dime to do any maintenance on the freeways.”
Under TransNet 1, which was passed 2004, the funds were split evenly between local roads, freeways and public transportation. However, SANDAG’s change of open space to 1.5 million acres from 750,000 has pushed development to the urban cores, Abed said.
Public transportation and open space funding has increased from 33.3 percent to 54 percent. The problem, as the council sees it, San Diego mostly benefits from the increased funding, while Escondido gets less. In total, $10 billion to $11 billion would be designated for those two areas, Abed said.
“Most of it is in San Diego … basically we are subsidizing big time public transportation in San Diego,” Abed said
Masson, meanwhile, took a shot at state legislators in Sacramento citing mismanagement of funds and tax revenue as the reason the county is in this position.
“We are trying to reduce greenhouse gasses (and) the worst thing you can do to increase greenhouse gasses is not move cars. We are not spending enough to move cars. I think there is a group people out there that think if you make traffic so bad, it will force people to use mass transit. Well, that’s not going to happen. It isn’t happening now and hasn’t happened the last 10-15 years.”
Twelve percent of the plan is for operating money, which Masson said will subsidize ridership, operational costs and pensions, to name a few.
“So what happens when they run out of that subsidy?” he asked. “Where are they going to go? Come back to the well for more money, or are they going become self-sufficient — I don’t think so.”
Councilwoman Olga Diaz agreed it is not a good deal for North County or Escondido. An idea, she said, would be to break up the county into quadrants or along the 78 corridor based on a percentage of tax revenue contributing by each area.
“Whatever is generated in that quadrant, corridor or whatever, then North County can decide how to spend that money with some small percentage going back to the system (SANDAG),” she said. “Can we support something where North County or quadrant of the county, gets the bulk of the investment our taxpayers are making?”
Abed agreed with Diaz’s thought, as North County is the second highest tax-generating region in the county and second-highest population center, but falls short in funds by those metrics. However, the county receives about 23 percent of funds for its transportation system, which is about 19 percent of the county’s infrastructure.
“There is an imbalance, but SANDAG doesn’t always look at it through this lens,” Abed said.