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Jim Desmond (left) and Hasan Ikhrata / Photo by Megan Wood

This post originally appeared in the Dec. 14 Politics Report. Get the Politics Report delivered to your inbox.

The MTS board last week discussed two spending plans for Elevate SD, its potential tax measure for transit, and SANDAG Executive Director Hasan Ikhrata came by to say he was on board.

That may not be surprising, coming from someone who has pledged to revolutionize the region’s transit system. But so many people have wondered about whether the bold pronouncements he was making about a long-term vision aligned with MTS’s focus on immediate improvements that former MTS Chair Georgette Gómez this summer felt it necessary to shut down the idea that there was any tension between the two agencies.

Ikhrata did the same Thursday during public comment at MTS’s board meeting.

“I came here for the purpose of making sure you hear it from me, clarifying what we’re doing at SANDAG, what we’re doing at MTS, and how we’re working together,” he said. “First thing’s first: We are coordinating as one agency … There is no two visions. There is one vision, that both agencies are working on.”

People keep asking him how MTS could propose a list of projects for its tax measure before SANDAG has released its new long-term transit plan. He said it doesn’t make sense.

SANDAG will release more detail on its vision in March, he said. And that vision will include the same projects MTS is now proposing.

“So I personally think Elevate 2020 is a down payment on a greater transportation system. SANDAG will eventually decide and the people of San Diego will eventually have to agree to pay for a system. It’s not going to be cheap. It’s not going to be easy. But it’s going to be an important system for the future of San Diego.”

And About the Purple Line …

An MTS trolley makes its way through downtown San Diego. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

When Ikhrata came to town, he demonstrated how his approach to transit building would differ from his predecessors by criticizing what had been the plan for the Purple Line, a new transit line from the South Bay to Kearny Mesa included in a 2016 ballot measure that would have largely followed I-805.

No one lives on a freeway, he told us in March, so why would we build a transit line that by definition no one can live especially close to?

Instead, he pledged to build the line through the inland South Bay communities it’s meant to serve, even if that meant building a 20-mile tunnel to make it happen.

On Thursday, he reiterated the point.

“Let me make it clear: There is only one Purple Line that will work great for San Diego County,” he said. “There is one alignment. And it cannot be determined by the amount of money, or the right-of-way. We’re going to do it right. That alignment, we’re totally together.”

Building the line along the freeway would make it cheaper and easier, but it would also make it less useful, lowering the number of people who use it.

MTS apparently agrees: A presentation delivered to the board said the version of the line that begins in East Chula Vista served a low-density area, “reducing access and ridership potential.”

Instead, MTS proposes beginning it at the existing Blue Line station at E Street in West Chula Vista, cutting across National City with three stops there, intersecting with the Orange Line in southeastern San Diego, before heading north through City Heights with stops at University Avenue and El Cajon Boulevard. It would then share a stop with the Green Line at the new SDSU West development and then head to Kearny Mesa.

Looks like Ikhrata won that one.

Andrew Keatts

I'm Andrew Keatts, a managing editor for projects and investigations at Voice of San Diego. Please contact me if you'd like at

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