Above: A new proposal by the San Diego Association of Governments would shift TransNet tax funds away from highway projects, such as the connection at Interstate 5 and State Route 78 (pictured above) to a region-wide transit proposal. Photo by Steve Puterski
VISTA — The proposal to shift TransNet funds from highways to transit has created a divide among elected officials and those at the San Diego Association of Governments.
Executive Director Hasan Ikhrata’s “5 Big Moves” proposal calls for stripping all funding for highway projects and shifting the tax revenue to transit.
On the morning of May 28, about two dozen Vista residents gathered at the steps of the civic center to protest the City Council’s rejection of the plan and declining a presentation by SANDAG regarding the proposal.
The council voted, 4-1, to send a letter penned by Mayor Julie Ritter, who sits on the SANDAG board, in opposition to the Regional Transportation Plan stating the shifting of the TransNet tax would hurt motorists along State Route 78, along with connections at Interstate 5 and 15, respectively.
“I’m in favor of transit,” Ritter said. “It works in areas where you have the population density and housing. I’m not arguing they shouldn’t do this, but I’m arguing I’m not willing that my city constituents and the city of Vista voted for to give up to this new transit plan.”
In addition, Ritter said shifting the funds will “degrade” the confidence of voters, but noted highway and road projects, along with transit, must be included in the new Regional Transportation Plan.
She, along with council members Amanda Rigby, John Franklin and Joe Green, railed against the proposal, saying it offers no clear path forward or proposed budget, is a broken promise to voters and will not adequately address traffic concerns in the city and along the SR 78 corridor.
Councilwoman Corinna Contreras, who voted no, said the plan is the future and an investment in transit will ensure the county hits its state-mandated climate goals, ease pressure on infrastructure and cited the TransNet budget shortfall as reasons to transition to the latest plan.
“I do want a presentation and think it’s really important,” Contreras said. “I think the approach makes us look like a toddler screaming about the 78. SANDAG is not going to pay attention to us. As a city, bring forward solutions that we have and hold taxpayer money to a greater level of accountability than before.”
Proponents, though, argued the transit project will accelerate the city and county’s goals in meeting climate mandates. Additionally, they say the transfer of money will be better suited to ensure more ridership and reduce carbon emissions.
Also, residents slammed the council for not initially inviting SANDAG to present its plan in front of the council. SANDAG is presenting the plans to every North County city, and others, over the next several months.
The council, hearing the concerns of the residents, also authorized SANDAG to present at a future council meeting.
Resident Lisa Wellens said the plan is a strategy and what SANDAG should work with, instead of throwing out plans without comprehensive direction. She said there was little good faith in working collaboratively with SANDAG and figuring out a plan moving forward.
“Keeping this promise for the sake of keeping a promise could be a bad one,” she said. “SANDAG must shift priorities toward transit and active transportation to maintain the region’s ability to compete for state and federal transportation funds.”
Another sticking point is the financials. Cori Schumacher, who works as a Vista field representative for Assemblywoman Tasha Boerner Horvath, told the council the TransNet projections show a $22.1 billion shortfall, thus the organization doesn’t have the money to complete all the highway projects.
San Diego County Supervisor Jim Desmond, who represents District 5 including Vista, said it is likely the new plan will cost billions more than the current slate of projects and SANDAG’s goal is to reach a 10% ridership from its current 3.5%.
Rigby, meanwhile, said the only offering SANDAG presented is double-tracking the Sprinter line, while she and the other three council members expressed concern over no budget proposal for the plan.
Additionally, the council majority said SANDAG will ask for a larger tax, perhaps near $0.08, which is significantly more than the current half-cent tax used to fund TransNet.
Many residents, though, said shifting the money from highway to transit will keep new costs lower. In addition, the 2004 vote (the tax didn’t start until 2008) allows SANDAG flexibility in shifting funds to other projects, Contreras said.
High-level view of the plan
“5 Big Moves” is part of SANDAG’s San Diego Forward initiative and includes completing corridors, a transit leap, mobility hubs, flexible fleets and Next Operating System (Next OS).
The corridor improvements focus on technology, pricing and connectivity to repurpose how highways and roads are used. Additionally, upgrades would prioritize dedicated space for transit and other pooled services, according to the SD Forward website.
The transit leap calls to complete a network of high-capacity, high-speed and high-frequency transit services to improve services and add new transit modes. It also plans for double or even triple tracking, increase the frequency connecting to mobility hubs.
Continuing the alignment with the corridors and transit leap are the hubs where an array of “travel options” come together. In addition, the plan supports land uses increasing housing near transit, along with improving infrastructure for bikes and pedestrians.
According to the plan, the hubs will also be customized based on a community’s transportation needs.