The Coast News Group
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) to a region-wide transit proposal. Photo by Steve Puterski

Vista City Council concerned with cost of ‘5 Big Moves’

VISTA — The traveling show of the San Diego Association of Governments “5 Big Moves” reached Vista on Aug. 13.

Hasan Ikhrata, the executive director of SANDAG, presented the organization’s new vision for transportation throughout the county during the Vista City Council meeting. He said the region is not on target to meet its state-mandated greenhouse gas emission goals, per the requirements in Senate Bill 375 passed in 2008.

He said the county must move forward with a new vision, one targeting future generations, and remove at least 10% of single-occupancy vehicles from the roads, while embracing technology to maximize the new plan.

A more detailed plan will come before the board of directors in November, Ikhrata said

“It’s about giving people choices,” he said. “Some problems you’re not going to solve by building more lanes. We add choices to the system, but they have to be as good as driving.”

Ikhrata and the SANDAG staff first presented the vision to the board of directors in the spring, and since it has been a hot-button issue. There are numerous layers, he said, including emissions, increasing capacity on freeways and roads by incorporating transit to reduce congestion and the total cost.

Vista council members Amanda Rigby, Corinna Contreras and John Franklin added they have concerns about the potential cost and those funding sources. Additionally, Franklin voiced concerns with the stoplight at the State Route 78 and Interstate 5 intersection, while Contreras said State Route 76 must be included in the plans.

“State Route 78 ends in stoplight. It’s a total outrage,” Franklin said. “I support the vision, but devil is in the details and you have figure out how to pay for it. You have to be realistic with revenue projections.”

As for funding, Ikhrata said the original Transnet tax was passed in 1987 and renewed in 2004. The 2004 forecast called $14 billion to be raised through sales taxes, but after re-examining those projections, it will generate around $6 billion. Of the $6 billion, $3.7 billion is required to pay down debt and the remainder, $2.3 billion, is what is left over.

Numerous projects are still unfunded, although the 78, 67, 52 and 94/125 highways have been agreed upon for improvements after the board voted to include them on July 18.

Ray Major, chief economist and director of data analytics for SANDAG, said another issue is reducing the number of vehicle miles traveled (VMT) to ensure the agency meets those environmental targets, also opening up capacity on the freeways.

Currently, Major said, 84 million VMT are generated every day and that number is expected to grow by 24% to about 103 million VMT over the next 10 to 20 years.

He said another goal is to connect the border to Oceanside using the five pillars of the plan, which are complete corridors, transit leap, mobility hubs, flexible fleets and the Next Operating System.

Like Ikhrata, Major said providing options to about 80% of people would reduce congestion. He said the final 5% to 10% of cars entering the freeways are what cause traffic, so by targeting at least an increase of 10%, the plan would be able to meet its goals.

“We design an alternative system to get off at different points … and we are using data to understand what’s happening in the region,” Major said.

Still, cost was a big concern and Franklin noted he was upset with SANDAG’s recent pilot transit program covering the first-last mile with the city of Carlsbad for $800,000. He said it could’ve been done cheaper, for around $300,000, through Uber, the ride-sharing service.

Rigby added she’s concerned with SANDAG’s history, especially with finances, noting North County cities have been burned in the past.

“We have had promises that were made and broken,” she said. “Transnet was just one example. Money was disappearing into a blackhole and never seen again.”