By Marlena Chavira-Medford
The California Coastal Commission recently announced its initial support of a bill that would require transportation dollars be spent on improving transit along the coast before any freeways can be expanded there.
Last month, Sen. Christine Kehoe (D-San Diego) introduced the legislation, SB 468, which would also require the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) to pay for improvements to local streets that absorb more traffic due to expanded freeways.
If the bill passes, it could be a big game-changer for Caltrans’ proposed Interstate-5 expansion, a project that entails building up to six new lanes from La Jolla through Oceanside at a cost of up to $4.5 billion.
The proposed I-5 expansion triggered an overwhelming opposition from the community, with hundreds turning out to protest at open houses and a couple of grassroots groups forming against it. Despite the community outcry, a majority of elected leaders from the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) supported the I-5 expansion in a vote late last year.
“I can tell you the SANDAG board is not very happy with this bill,” said Sen. Kehoe’s policy director Deanna Spehn during a Torrey Pines Community Planning Board meeting March 10, where she was invited to talk about the bill.
She went on to say that the initial support for SB 468 from the California Coastal Commission was no small feat.
“The California Coastal Commission took up the bill and they don’t support a lot of bills — it has to be very specific to their charge,” she said of the independent state agency, which voted 11-1 in favor of the legislation.
The California Coastal Commission is also asking Kehoe to add language from an existing law, SB 375, which requires regions to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by building homes closer to major highways and transit.
Caltrans has said that based on future population projections, today’s I-5 rush-hour commute would more than double from 34 minutes to 70 minutes along the North County corridor by 2030 if the freeway is not expanded. SB 468, however, would also require that Caltrans look at the most recent U.S. Census numbers, which indicate that there was less population growth than expected along North County’s coast —meaning it may be harder to justify expanding I-5 based on population projections.
Spehn said that the SB 468 would likely go through more drafts as more co-authored signed on and helped shape the language. The bill will be reviewed by Senate and Assembly members, and potentially could be signed into effect by Governor Jerry Brown by January 2012.