CARLSBAD — The San Diego Association of Governments’ 5 Big Moves is making waves throughout the county for its new approach to transportation.
On July 23, SANDAG Executive Director Hasan Ikhrata, interim Land Use and Transportation Planning Director Coleen Clementson and Chief Economist Ray Major presented the vision for SANDAG’s “5 Big Moves.”
The plan calls for complete corridors, transit leaps, mobility hubs, flexibility hubs and a next generation operating system to create a robust and functional transit system throughout the county. The plan was introduced as SANDAG’s old plan would not meet state and federal emission standards, thus jeopardizing future state and federal funding.
“Unfortunately, California is going in the wrong direction with greenhouse gasses,” Ikhrata said. “The only thing we can do is reduce vehicle miles traveled. The plan we are putting forward would not only meet GHG targets, it meets the needs of the region. It’s a balanced plan.”
Ikhrata announced the plan April 26 and since then the proposal has pitted North and East county leaders, mostly conservative, against their liberal counterparts. One source of contention has been perception of diverting funds from highway projects.
During its July 12 meeting, the SANDAG board approved a compromise led by San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer to ensure several highway projects would remain in place after they were initially left out of the first plan.
The latest source of division has been over congestion pricing, which is already in place on Interstate 15, Ikhrata said. He stressed, though, SANDAG would not incorporate an aggressive congestion pricing structure similar to those used in London and Stockholm.
He said it was important to keep those discussions on the table as a more detailed plan is released this fall. The goal, Ikhrata said, is to have a plan approved and submitted to the state by fall 2020.
“We are still in the beginning stages of the work,” he said. “In November, we will have a framework and initial information about the cost.”
The battle between roads and transit, Ikhrata added, is rather a matter of adding capacity to the highways by removing vehicles, thus reducing vehicle miles traveled, by building a robust transit system connecting residents from their homes to their jobs.
Admittedly, he said the Coaster is not a current viable option and service must be improved. One of those steps will come with a pilot program approved by the Carlsbad City Council on June 11.
It uses Poinsettia Station as a hub allowing riders to be shuttled via a phone app to their place of employment. The program begins in August.
Major said with an estimated increase in population of at least 700,000 in the next 10 to 15 years, it is important to connect all modes of transportation to increase road capacity.
“There is a lot of growth in the Palomar Airport Road area and we don’t have a solution for them,” Major said. “Palomar Airport Road would be part of complete corridors, transit leap, mobility hubs in different areas and transfer and residents can catch the flexible fleet to get to home or work.”
Funding remains another sore spot. Ikhrata again stressed SANDAG is not diverting any money from the Transnet tax to the plan. He said there is no money to siphon, noting there will be only $43 million available through 2023, while the plan is expected to cost billions more.
Mayor Matt Hall, a skeptic of the plan, said the last tax proposal, Measure A in 2016, which was led by a bipartisan contingent of leaders, failed. He said it will be difficult to reach the two-thirds threshold to pass such a measure unless a balanced plan is presented.
Councilwoman Cori Schumacher, who supports the project, said it is needed as the old plan has led to an illegal transportation plan, a funding gap with Transnet, which puts in question funding, and warned it will be highly politicized. She said the old plan was kicked back to ensure SANDAG is increasing capacity and meeting state and federal goals to continue to apply for matching funds.
“It’s going to be contentious,” Schumacher said. “Every decision going forward is likely going to be politicized. Please just don’t listen to the news reports because the news makes money off advertising and folks like to read glamorous news headlines that invoke fear.”
SANDAG is also providing free webinars on Aug. 7 regarding the flexible fleets and Aug. 21 on the Next Operating System.
Photo Caption: The San Diego Association of Governments presented its “5 Big Moves” plan during the July 23 Carlsbad City Council meeting. Pictured is the upgrades to the Poinsettia Station, which includes double tracking. The City of Carlsbad will also conduct a transit pilot program from the station starting next month. Photo by Steve Puterski