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San Diego is the nation’s eighth largest city and the heart of a bustling binational mega-region with the busiest land border crossing in the world. Every year, our regional tourism economy brings in 35 million visitors with a $19 billion economic impact.
As the population and economy continue to grow, San Diego is at a crossroads. There are many deepening transportation challenges ahead — traffic congestion, deteriorating infrastructure, mobility inequities, unhealthy air quality and substantial greenhouse gas emissions. Fortunately, officials will have an opportunity to change course by committing to a bold new vision for regional transportation.
The San Diego Association of Governments is charged with planning and executing transportation and infrastructure projects to keep our region moving. SANDAG will soon consider a major shift in the region’s transportation strategy, known as the 5 Big Moves. This shift, which is long overdue, will provide safe, convenient and affordable mobility options for all San Diegans, providing a choice in how everyone moves around the region. This step is critical, not only to ensure a clean and efficient transportation future, but also to comply with state and local climate action goals. The 5 Big Moves strategy recognizes the need to look at transportation corridors and mobility needs holistically, and make real investments in effective transit options.
San Diego has long relied on its appealing climate and quality of life as a substitute for world-class infrastructure. That complacency is now actively degrading the assets that make San Diego a great place to live. The American Lung Association recently ranked San Diego as the sixth smoggiest city in the country and highlighted the rising number of unhealthy ozone days. We know that pollution from cars accounts for almost half of local greenhouse gas emissions, and unless the region takes drastic action, residents and visitors will suffer the consequences.
San Diego’s inefficient transportation system is a major drag on economic prosperity — cutting into wages, commuter budgets, business connectivity and competition for new business investment. Time after time, I hear that we can’t build the housing we desperately need because of insufficient transportation options. I hear from struggling workers who rely on public transportation and spend far too much time trying to get around. I hear from businesses about the difficulty of recruiting talent and investment to a high-cost, car-dependent region. A recent analysis estimated that San Diegans spend an average of 64 hours per year waiting in traffic, forfeiting the equivalent of more than $1,400 in lost time and fuel. The costs of congestion are very real and cannot be ignored.
For too long, the region has recognized these issues and failed to act. Millions of tax dollars have been thrown away in lawsuits because plans don’t pass legal muster. In the past, regional leaders have refused to acknowledge the reality of induced demand. Just like the climate change debate, San Diego must not ignore the overwhelming evidence that adding more freeways does nothing to reduce traffic. Doubling down on the status quo of highway expansion only sets us up for failure in the form of rejected plans, costly legal battles and even more costly losses of state and federal transportation funding — all while our congestion, air quality and infrastructure issues continue to grow.
Our leaders can’t keep doing the same things and expecting different results. Now is the time to invest in a livable, prosperous future for all San Diegans. The 5 Big Moves are an excellent framework to get on the right path. It’s time to finally embrace our place as a dynamic and growing region by investing in a world-class, multi-modal transportation system. My parents taught me that if you care about something, you should leave it better than you found it. Let’s leave San Diego with a livable climate, healthy air to breathe, a thriving economy and convenient, equitable access to all the region has to offer.
Todd Gloria is a state Assembly member representing the 78th District, which includes San Diego, Coronado, Del Mar, Solana Beach and Imperial Beach. He is also a candidate for San Diego mayor.