Tuesday, May 17, 2005 | San Diego transportation projects may be getting some much-needed fuel after being slowed down by state budget cuts that have drained local coffers of gas tax money the last two years.

A revenue windfall realized once state taxes were filed has led Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to boost highway and transit funding in his May budget revision to $1.3 billion for the upcoming 2005-06 fiscal year.

The funds had been suspended in the governor’s January proposal because of budget restrictions, as they were last year.

“We’re going to create an infrastructure that reduces the gridlock on our roads,” he said. “I want a California where people spend less time sitting on the freeway and more time with their families at home.”

The San Diego Association of Governments, the lead agency for many of the county’s pending transportation projects, will be among the different local authorities across the state vying for allocations if the funding is maintained in a final budget version. SANDAG government affairs director Ellen Roundtree said the region’s projects will require about $200 million to stay on schedule.

Several projects waiting on state money are under construction or ready to go, Roundtree said, including:

– The Sprinter light rail in North County, which will run from Oceanside to Escondido. The 22-mile long rail line and its 15 stations will require $80 million more to complete, given that a commitment of $152 million has been made from a federal grant.

– A project in progress at the infamous “Merge” between Interstate 5 and Interstate 805 in Sorrento Valley is slated for completion in January 2007. At its widest, the interchange will be 14 lanes broad after four lanes are added. The Merge will also add truck bypass connectors and will be designed to better separate traffic from State Route 56 and I-5.

– A 20-mile high-occupancy lane in the median of Interstate 15 between the highway’s interchanges with State Route 163 and State Route 78, which is already under construction.

– The remaining East Village transit projects, like realigning rails and improving platforms near San Diego City College. Much of this project is complete, such as construction on stations for the Gaslamp Quarter and at 12th Avenue and Market Street.

– State Route 52, which will widen the freeway between interchanges with I-805 and Interstate 125 (slated to begin in 2010) and extend the road through Santee to State Route 67 (beginning 2009).

– State Route 905, where six lanes will run six miles long from I-805 to the Otay Mesa Port of Entry. The project is expected to begin in the fall and is slated for completion in 2008.

– The Mid-Coast extension of the trolley, which will run about 11 miles and add eight stations from Old Town to University Towne Centre.

If Schwarzenegger’s budget is passed, it will be the first time Proposition 42 has been fully funded since the initiative was passed by voters in 2002. The mandate requires state taxes on motor fuel be spent on public transit and improvements to state highways and local roads.

California Transportation Commission executive director Diane Eidam said that she applauds Schwarzenegger’s decision to invest state money into transportation, but that criteria will have to be set for how road and rail money will be dispersed.

“We don’t have enough money to do all the programs, so we will probably be developing an allocation plan,” she said.

Eidam said she expects the commission, which has allocated transportation funds for the state since 1978, to call on local agencies like SANDAG, the San Diego Metropolitan Transit Development Board and the North County Transit District to give input on how the state funds will be spent.

She said local agencies along with the California Department of Transportation, may assemble near mid-June to draft ideas of how to dole out the money. If a state budget is passed by the June 30 constitutional deadline, the commission could consider the criteria at its July meeting, Eidam said.

Roundtree said the longer agencies like SANDAG wait for funding, the more construction costs increase.

“Finding out the news next week was excellent,” she said. “Even if people are still waiting in traffic while we wait for funding.”

Please contact Evan McLaughlin directly at

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