New SANDAG System Aims to Reprioritize Highway, Transit Projects

New SANDAG System Aims to Reprioritize Highway, Transit Projects

Photo by Sam Hodgson

Sandag’s 2050 transportation plan focuses more heavily on expanding San Diego roadways than expanding rail capabilities.

It may seem like SANDAG approved its contested regional transportation plan months ago, but the planning agency is already beginning work on a brand new one, and it’s making some changes to address complaints that pegged the last one as too highway-happy.

Speak City HeightsThe state sued SANDAG for the last plan because it failed to reduce car pollution fast enough. Local opponents said the real problem was a plan that favored suburbanites – people transportation wonks call “choice riders” – over the people who use buses and trolleys in the city’s urban core.

Now, SANDAG is taking a look at how it will prioritize highway and transit projects in its regional comprehensive plan, which will guide both land-use and transportation decisions. For the first time, SANDAG is adding weight to projects that improve public health by increasing walking and biking, according to SANDAG spokeswoman Elisa Arias. It’s also looking at how to increase social equity among neighborhoods and regions.

The new grading system is in its early stages but already City Heights residents say it could use some work. Randy Van Vleck, active transportation manager for the City Heights Community Development Corporation, said it might actually encourage disinvestment in the neighborhood.

“The evaluation criteria awards projects that promote mode shift – from one transportation mode to the other – which is a good thing for the region,” Van Vleck said. “But for communities that already have high volumes of transit, biking and walking ridership, that hurts us.”

In other words, projects that get people out of cars and into buses and trolleys stand to score four times more in some categories than those where transit use is already high.

Van Vleck said that despite the neighborhood’s high ridership rate, City Heights needs more investment to make walking and biking to transit stops safe. City data from 2007 show pedestrians were twice as likely to be hit by cars in City Heights than in other communities. Funds for a rapid bus line and accompanying sidewalk improvements have since come through.

SANDAG looks at its evaluation criteria every four years. It took public comment on the new evaluation criteria at a workshop this week and will continue to do so via email (rke@sandag.org) until its board votes on the proposal in October.

Correction: An earlier version of this article said SANDAG had not looked at social equity in past plans. The 2050 Regional Transportation Plan includes a social equity component. The public health component is new this year.

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Megan Burks

Megan Burks

Megan Burks is a reporter for Speak City Heights, a media project of Voice of San Diego, KPBS, Media Arts Center and The AjA Project. You can contact her directly at meburks@kpbs.org or 619.550.5665.

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27 comments
Derek Hofmann
Derek Hofmann

After factoring in all costs and benefits, including negative externalities, shouldn't ROI always be the one and only evaluation criteria? Why would you ever prioritize a project with a lower ROI above one with a higher ROI?

Derek Hofmann
Derek Hofmann subscribermember

After factoring in all costs and benefits, including negative externalities, shouldn't ROI always be the one and only evaluation criteria? Why would you ever prioritize a project with a lower ROI above one with a higher ROI?

Mark Giffin
Mark Giffin

"When we stop building unprofitable roads (those that don't pay for themselves 100% from user fees)" We already pay for these things every time we pay for gas.. Why should I pay twice.

David Hall
David Hall

ROIs, can and frequently do, include factors that are subjective. Meaning that different people can assign different values. To blindly say that projects should be prioritized strictly by an ROI is naive or idealistic. Take your pick.

Jim Jones
Jim Jones

"Why would you ever prioritize a project with a lower ROI above one with a higher ROI?" Exactly! That is why SANDAG should never waste money on half full very expensive public transportation and empty sidewalks.

David Hall
David Hall

Because there are more important things than money?

Mark Giffin
Mark Giffin subscribermember

"When we stop building unprofitable roads (those that don't pay for themselves 100% from user fees)" We already pay for these things every time we pay for gas.. Why should I pay twice.

David Hall
David Hall subscriber

ROIs, can and frequently do, include factors that are subjective. Meaning that different people can assign different values. To blindly say that projects should be prioritized strictly by an ROI is naive or idealistic. Take your pick.

Jim Jones
Jim Jones subscriber

"Why would you ever prioritize a project with a lower ROI above one with a higher ROI?" Exactly! That is why SANDAG should never waste money on half full very expensive public transportation and empty sidewalks.

David Hall
David Hall subscriber

Because there are more important things than money?

chipsanders
chipsanders

Gas tax only partially pays for the cost of roads.

Derek Hofmann
Derek Hofmann

As a result of the TransNet sales tax, you already pay twice for the roads.

Derek Hofmann
Derek Hofmann

Why does it have to be subjective? If the cost of a project is $x, and it's expected to increase tax revenue by $y per year, then the project is worthwhile if the annual amortization of $x is less than $y. This isn't subjective at all.

Derek Hofmann
Derek Hofmann

"if you want to claim you should use ROI [and] then claim public transportation has a positive ROI..." I didn't claim that public transportation has a positive ROI. "But even if the roads are unfairly biased toward non users (and that is far from proven..." Eliminate TransNet and other sources of non-user road funding, then there will be no question.

Jim Jones
Jim Jones

Derek, if you want to claim you should use ROI, then claim public transportation has a positive ROI because tourism is increased, you have to show that the tax revenue of the tourism increase is greater than the cost of the public transportation. Not only have you not shown that, you can't show that. Tourism did not boom with the trolly, except that more money was diverted from San Diego to TJ as a result. You are simply using any argument you can to try to justify the enormous expense of public transportation, without regard to a true ROI. As far as the roads, people do pay for them, since the main wear to the roads is heavy vehicles, they, and their cargo should be taxed the most, but that would drive up food costs. I'm all for that, so feel free to lobby for it. But even if the roads are unfairly biased toward non users (and that is far from proven, most people who pay substantial tax are car owners, most non car owners pay little tax or are upside down on carrying their weight for society) that doesn't mean it's also right to waste money on public transportation. Two wrongs don't make a right.

Derek Hofmann
Derek Hofmann

"tourists can always rent cars or take cabs." Jim, forcing tourists to rent cars or take cabs reduces the likelihood they will visit our city, and when they do, their dollars will quickly leave the state to pay for those cars (built out of state) and the gasoline they use. Local jobs are more important to our economy than foreign jobs. "You also can't limit the profit of roads to just what user fees bring in, roads allow massive tax bases..." Why can't the user fees to be raised to cover the cost of the roads? If the roads are really worth their costs, people will pay for them. If people won't pay the true cost of something, it's a sign that whatever it is may not be worth providing. Subsidizing roads inhibits competition and increases taxes, both of which reduce the health of our economy.

Jim Jones
Jim Jones

We wouldn't lose more money on tourism than we waste subsidizing public transportation, plus tourists can always rent cars or take cabs. I rent a car to any city I travel to in the US. You also can't limit the profit of roads to just what user fees bring in, roads allow massive tax bases, which is why there is no call to have north San Diego break away and pay for their own infrastructure for instance, even though they should. Also I see the sidewalks are empty a lot more than the roads are, there is no need for a sidewalk on both sides of a street for instance. We should look at ROI, real ROI. Walking tags and a shoe tax to fund sidewalks, and public transportation paying for itself with it's ticket fees. If it can't do that, it shouldn't be built.

Derek Hofmann
Derek Hofmann

Without public transportation, we'd lose money from tourism, we'd lose tax revenue because people wouldn't be able to get in and out of downtown, and we'd have to spend money to keep the idle poor from getting into trouble or to clean up after them when they do. All of these need to be factored into the ROI equations. When we stop building unprofitable roads (those that don't pay for themselves 100% from user fees), sidewalks would get more use. Additionally, sidewalks add to property values, and the increase in property tax revenue should be factored into the ROI equations. And don't forget, without sidewalks, people would have to walk in the road, and I think motorists would be willing to pay a little more to get pedestrians out of their way.

Derek Hofmann
Derek Hofmann

Which of those things cannot be quantified in dollar amounts?

Derek Hofmann
Derek Hofmann subscribermember

As a result of the TransNet sales tax, you already pay twice for the roads.

Derek Hofmann
Derek Hofmann subscribermember

Why does it have to be subjective? If the cost of a project is $x, and it's expected to increase tax revenue by $y per year, then the project is worthwhile if the annual amortization of $x is less than $y. This isn't subjective at all.

Derek Hofmann
Derek Hofmann subscribermember

"if you want to claim you should use ROI [and] then claim public transportation has a positive ROI..." I didn't claim that public transportation has a positive ROI. "But even if the roads are unfairly biased toward non users (and that is far from proven..." Eliminate TransNet and other sources of non-user road funding, then there will be no question.

Jim Jones
Jim Jones subscriber

Derek, if you want to claim you should use ROI, then claim public transportation has a positive ROI because tourism is increased, you have to show that the tax revenue of the tourism increase is greater than the cost of the public transportation. Not only have you not shown that, you can't show that. Tourism did not boom with the trolly, except that more money was diverted from San Diego to TJ as a result. You are simply using any argument you can to try to justify the enormous expense of public transportation, without regard to a true ROI. As far as the roads, people do pay for them, since the main wear to the roads is heavy vehicles, they, and their cargo should be taxed the most, but that would drive up food costs. I'm all for that, so feel free to lobby for it. But even if the roads are unfairly biased toward non users (and that is far from proven, most people who pay substantial tax are car owners, most non car owners pay little tax or are upside down on carrying their weight for society) that doesn't mean it's also right to waste money on public transportation. Two wrongs don't make a right.

Derek Hofmann
Derek Hofmann subscribermember

"tourists can always rent cars or take cabs." Jim, forcing tourists to rent cars or take cabs reduces the likelihood they will visit our city, and when they do, their dollars will quickly leave the state to pay for those cars (built out of state) and the gasoline they use. Local jobs are more important to our economy than foreign jobs. "You also can't limit the profit of roads to just what user fees bring in, roads allow massive tax bases..." Why can't the user fees to be raised to cover the cost of the roads? If the roads are really worth their costs, people will pay for them. If people won't pay the true cost of something, it's a sign that whatever it is may not be worth providing. Subsidizing roads inhibits competition and increases taxes, both of which reduce the health of our economy.

Jim Jones
Jim Jones subscriber

We wouldn't lose more money on tourism than we waste subsidizing public transportation, plus tourists can always rent cars or take cabs. I rent a car to any city I travel to in the US. You also can't limit the profit of roads to just what user fees bring in, roads allow massive tax bases, which is why there is no call to have north San Diego break away and pay for their own infrastructure for instance, even though they should. Also I see the sidewalks are empty a lot more than the roads are, there is no need for a sidewalk on both sides of a street for instance. We should look at ROI, real ROI. Walking tags and a shoe tax to fund sidewalks, and public transportation paying for itself with it's ticket fees. If it can't do that, it shouldn't be built.

Derek Hofmann
Derek Hofmann subscribermember

Without public transportation, we'd lose money from tourism, we'd lose tax revenue because people wouldn't be able to get in and out of downtown, and we'd have to spend money to keep the idle poor from getting into trouble or to clean up after them when they do. All of these need to be factored into the ROI equations. When we stop building unprofitable roads (those that don't pay for themselves 100% from user fees), sidewalks would get more use. Additionally, sidewalks add to property values, and the increase in property tax revenue should be factored into the ROI equations. And don't forget, without sidewalks, people would have to walk in the road, and I think motorists would be willing to pay a little more to get pedestrians out of their way.

Derek Hofmann
Derek Hofmann subscribermember

Which of those things cannot be quantified in dollar amounts?