Tuesday, March 08, 2005 | Get used to gridlock. It’s here to stay. To ensure that TransNet II received the requisite two-thirds vote last November, transportation priorities were established to appeal to the widest possible audience. To get the money, TransNet II committed what many planning professionals consider the ultimate crime: ballot box planning.

As a result, San Diego County will not get transportation solutions, but more of the same. SANDAG reports in its 2005 State of the Commute that drive times will be longer in 2030 than today. That fact is hard to reconcile with the TransNet II ballot language that promises traffic congestion relief.

Nevertheless, as a make-work project, TransNet II is good. It will employ tens of thousands of people in jobs they already know how to do. Laying down concrete and asphalt, building bridges and burying culverts, and slapping down rail for trains and trolleys have helped propel San Diego’s economy for more than 100 years. It’s investment in Bus Rapid Transit also has promise. TransNet II will help keep our economy chugging along.

As a transportation plan, however, TransNet II is not designed to succeed. It will ultimately accommodate more cars and perhaps make public transit more competitive timewise with cars, but commuters will continue only to chug along.

Prior to the November election, the TransNet II debate raged. People usually diametrically opposed fought hard against its passage (albeit from opposing points of view). TransNet’s tidy split of resources – roughly a third of $14 billion split between freeways, the local road network and to public transportation – left those advocating for more lanes for autos and those wanting more choices for public transit both crying for more.

Before the election, people such as Alan Hoffman, an expert who has traveled the world analyzing transportation systems, offered up suggestions to facilitate better public transit. Environmentalists Carolyn Chase and Lynne Baker swapped some charged e-mails regarding the compromises that led to TransNet’s priorities, which include some $850 million for environmental protections. Supervisors Horn and Jacob planted op-eds. Noted planners and architects such as Howard Blackson and Jay Shumaker weighed in. These people and many more had a vision of a better way.

SANDAG, however, is moving forward fast. It is ready to borrow against the trillions of halfpennies it will collect over the next 40 years to build its projects today. That, admittedly, is probably prudent on its part.

But… is it prudent to implement a 40-year transportation plan without knowing where a new regional airport might be located?

Is North County’s east-west Sprinter expenditure worth it when most people there are going north and south? And, with 15 stations on the Sprinter line, there will be just as much stop as go in the train’s progress. That’s not going to get many people out of their cars.

Where is the equity of spending hundreds of millions of public dollars on managed lanes that single-occupant drivers can buy their way onto, thereby creating fast and uncrowded lanes for people who can afford them and choked lanes for those who can’t?

Is it smart to spend hundreds of millions for the extension of the trolley from Old Town to University City? To be built along an existing and flat rail corridor, this extension will cost $134 million just to get to Balboa Avenue. The second half of the extension will be much more costly, climbing up new and crowded ground for rail. A Coaster station at Gillman Drive (connected to University City with rubber-wheeled trolleys) and another at Balboa/Garnet would be much cheaper and achieve nearly the same results.

A more effective trolley extension would connect it with the Coaster at Balboa/Garnet, take it west on Grand to the beach, then south on the historic trolley route on Mission Boulevard over the San Diego River into Ocean Beach, and loop it back to downtown via Liberty Station and the airport.

Now that would generate some real ridership. The trolley would be much more effective if it reached into established neighborhoods rather than travel along existing rail/freeway corridors.

Finally, is it really prudent to spend all this money on same old technology when some of our tax dollars could be better spent on research and development? San Diego’s universities and technology companies could help lead the way to new transportation solutions.

Transportation is one of our region’s toughest challenges. There has to be a better way. We need all those passionate voices to speak up once again.

Rob Schupp has lived in San Diego longer than there have been freeways, but now spends way too much time stuck on them thinking about how he’d spend $14 billion.

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