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San Diego finds itself right in the middle of infrastructure spending when compared to 22 other major metropolitan areas in the United States, according to a report released Tuesday by the Urban Land Institute and Ernst & Young. Infrastructure 2008: A Competitive Advantage compared the current and planned transit spending for the 23 cities and then compared the overall U.S. spending as compared to nations in Europe and Asia.

San Diego is in the upper range of growth projections — 37 percent population growth and 51 percent traffic growth — and on the lower range for transit spending. However, San Diego was one of the first cities in the United Sates to develop a light rail system, and it has plans for light rail extensions and managed toll lanes, which will be “competitive with driving by yourself,” said Muggs Stoll, the Transnet Program Manager at SANDAG, which contributed information to the report. The city was also one of the first in California to adopt a half-cent transportation sales tax, in reaction to diminished state and federal funds.

The report grouped the cities into three categories: legacy transit (meaning the most extensive transit systems and the highest transit use), regions with newer extensive transit (cities that lack extensive transit systems but aspire to create transit options) and lower share transit cities (cities that direct little money to infrastructure and primarily use that for maintenance).

San Diego was grouped with the newer extensive transit cities because of their long-term transit spending plan, the Regional Transportation Plan, which was approved last November. The plan projects improvements in San Diego until the year 2030. Although the plan will provide for capital projects, the funding is primarily for adding capacity to freeways such as the 76, 52, and 905, according to Stoll.

Despite rapid growth in the next few decades, San Diego expects to decrease congestion on freeways. Only two other cities in the report expect lower congestion: Seattle and Milwaukee.

“For our region, we’re trying to develop a balanced approach,” Stoll said. “We want to provide choices for commuters to address congestion in a multitude of ways.”

According to the report, short-term transit spending in San Diego will total $6 billion and long-term transit spending will be $41 billion. San Diego expects that transit users will increase from 5 percent of the population to 10 percent of the population. Currently, 73 percent of the San Diego population drives to work.

“Our transit needs in San Diego are great, but the bigger issue is our behavior,” said Mary Lydon, the Executive Director of the San Diego/Tijuana ULI District Council. “Although it feels like a crisis as it relates to infrastructure. … We are exactly in that place to change the way that we live and how we move around.”

According to Stoll, the city also sought funds from the Department of Transportation last year through the Urban Partnership Program. San Diego wasn’t selected as one of the five partners to receive federal funding, but the city was awarded an $18 million contract from the Department of Transportation for an innovative project to have buses run on the inner shoulders of the 805.

“We have been warned for many years — ever since the gas crisis in the ’70s — to change our ways and we just went full steam ahead,” Lydon said. “We’re now at this crisis/opportunity where we really don’t have a choice. … My vision is that it’s going to enhance the quality of our lives, the environment, cooperation with our region, and regions that we’re connected to.”

— BETHANY LEACH

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