We all want to keep this region a wonderful place to live. We want to protect our environment. We want our local economy to thrive. We want everyone to have the chance to live in healthy, vibrant communities.

How do we achieve these goals for the future in the face of inevitable change? Because big change is coming. There are 3.2 million people in the region now – we expect another million in the next 35 years, mostly from the children of people who already live here now. With those new people will come another half a million jobs and 300,000 homes.

Accommodating that growth while still maintaining our quality of life is going to take careful planning. That is what the San Diego Association of Governments has been doing over the last three years. The result is San Diego Forward: The Regional Plan.

San Diego Forward – a vision created with the help of more than two years of public and stakeholder input – envisions a future where we will accommodate growth in our existing communities, preserve our open space and create active, vibrant communities connected by a variety of transportation choices. More public transit, more managed lanes (carpool/transit lanes that sometimes accept toll-paying solo drivers) to create free flow for transit and carpools and a region-wide network of biking and walking facilities. It also considers emerging technologies and how they can be incorporated to create a cleaner, more efficient system. All told, San Diego Forward calls for a $204 billion investment in our transportation system between now and 2050.

In and around the city of San Diego, the plan will mean a multitude of new transit routes and active transportation improvements, as well as additional roadway infrastructure to ensure faster and more convenient trips via transit, bike, carpool and auto. Fourteen Rapid services are planned to serve the central region, and streetcars are planned in the urban core near downtown and in the beach communities. Additionally, local bus and trolley frequencies will be improved to provide better service that is well connected to regional transit. Just around the corner is the Mid-Coast trolley project that will extend the Blue Line trolley from downtown to UCSD and University City. Other future trolley services include the Pacific Beach line, an extension of the Mid-Coast line to Sorrento Mesa to connect with the Coaster, trolley from University City and Kearny Mesa to San Ysidro and the conversion of the Mid-City Rapid line to trolley, connecting downtown and SDSU. An intermodal transit center also is planned to provide seamless transit access to the airport.

Highway improvements in the central core include operational improvements on I-5 and I-8, as well as managed lanes on I-805 from State Route 54 to its connection with I-5 in Sorrento Mesa. Managed lanes projects are also planned on I-5 between I-8 and Sorrento Mesa, as well as on State Route 94 between I-5 and SR 125, and on I-15 to connect SR 94 to the existing managed lanes north of SR 52.

Adding transportation choice has its benefits. In terms of the economy, a functioning transportation system – which allows people and goods to move freely, connects workers with education and jobs and connects businesses with their partners and their customers – results in jobs and increased productivity. Economic analysis of San Diego Forward shows that for every dollar invested in the plan, we will realize almost $2 in economic benefit. An efficient system will support an average of 53,000 more jobs a year, and it will result in an average annual increase of $13.4 billion in gross regional product.

Creating choice allows for more trips to occur outside of a solo vehicle, benefiting the environment. The state requires regional agencies like SANDAG to achieve greenhouse gas reductions from cars and light trucks through the coordination of land use and transportation planning. The transportation network included in San Diego Forward will allow our region to meet those targets. Our region is required to cut per capita greenhouse gases by 7 percent by 2020 over a 2005 baseline. San Diego Forward will far exceed that target, cutting greenhouse gases by 15 percent. In 2035, our target is 13 percent reduction – the regional plan will achieve 21 percent.

San Diego Forward is a balanced plan, aimed at increasing choice. That said, the largest share of funding in each phase of the plan will be invested in transit.

Overall, the regional plan commits more than 50 percent of its $204 billion investment to transit, including five new trolley lines, 32 new Rapid bus lines and significant increases in transit frequencies.

An additional 15 percent is dedicated to adding 160 miles of managed lanes to our existing freeways for the specific purpose of allowing transit, carpools and vanpools to be more efficient and bypass traffic.

More than $588 million is dedicated to building 275 miles of bikeways, making active transportation a realistic alternative to car travel for more people. The plan invests a total of $4.9 billion in active transportation improvements throughout the region, including biking and walking improvements, such as access and safety upgrades to freeway overpasses.

Seventy-five percent of the major transportation funds in SANDAG’s plans over the next five years are programmed to be invested in transit and active transportation, including the Mid-Coast trolley extension, the South Bay Rapid project, and the continued double-tracking of our coastal rail corridor.

In the end, we all have the same goals for the region’s future – a strong economy, healthy communities and environmental protection. And we all have a role to play in getting us there, including finding ways to reduce driving, embracing more efficient technology and just living a healthy lifestyle.

Jack Dale is a member of the Santee City Council and a SANDAG board member. Ron Roberts is a county supervisor and vice chairman of the SANDAG board.

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