SANDAG releases updated transit plan for coastline
By Joe Tash
An updated version of a $6.5 billion, decades-long plan for transit, highway and environmental improvements to the 27-mile stretch of coastline between La Jolla and Oceanside was unveiled on Friday, March 1, by the San Diego Association of Governments and the California Department of Transportation.
The document is called the draft Public Works Plan, and it outlines a series of projects, including the addition of carpool and express lanes along Interstate 5, double-tracking of the coastal rail line, lagoon restoration, new road and rail bridges, and bicycle and pedestrian trails.
The document will be available online for public review and comment until April 29 at www.KeepSanDiegoMoving.com/NCC.
A presentation on the updated plan, which was originally released in June 2010, was made at a joint meeting of SANDAG’s regional planning and transportation committees. SANDAG oversees planning for regional transportation projects, and administers the proceeds of a voter-approved sales tax earmarked for transportation. The agency is governed by elected officials from local cities and the county.
“It’s a major milestone for us,” said Allan Kosup, a Caltrans official who oversees projects along the I-5 corridor, of the updated Public Works Plan.
On Friday, the agencies sent out 85,000 postcards, informing coastal North County residents that the plan is available for review and comment. Two public meetings to gather comment on the plan are also scheduled: on Wednesday, April 3, from 6-8 p.m. at La Jolla Country Day School; and on Thursday, April 4, from 6-8 p.m. at the Carlsbad Senior Center.
Kosup said at Friday’s meeting that the project now includes some $200 million in environmental mitigation, tailored to each of the six lagoons along the 27-mile corridor. Following the release of the first version of the plan, Kosup said, members of the public wanted assurances that environmental and trail projects would not be put on the back burner in favor of highway and rail enhancements.
“I look at this as the implementation blueprint for the $6.5 billion investment,” Kosup said.
Caltrans and SANDAG hope to submit the revised plan to the California Coastal Commission sometime this summer, and have a hearing before the commission by the spring of 2014. If the plan is approved, Kosup said, construction of the first phase of work on I-5, which consists of one new carpool lane in each direction from Manchester Avenue to State Route 78, could begin in 2015.
Ultimately, the project will add two new express lanes in each direction of the freeway, from Oceanside to La Jolla. The plan envisions completion of all the projects by 2040.
In addition, the plan calls for numerous road, rail and environmental projects:
•Direct access ramps, allowing commuters to enter express lanes directly, rather than having to cut across several lanes of highway traffic.
•New and upgraded park and ride lots.
•Pedestrian crossings under the freeway to allow coastal access.
•Train station improvements, including a special events platform at the Del Mar Fairgrounds.
•Lagoon restoration and coastal habitat preservation.
•New bike/pedestrian bridges, adjacent to I-5 to allow north-south access across lagoons.
•New 27-mile North Coast Bike trail to complement the existing Coastal Rail Trail, and connect to the east-west Coast to Crest trail.
As planning proceeds on the projects contained in the Public Works Plan, the agencies are also working on marketing efforts designed to reduce freeway congestion along the North County coastal corridor.
A report provided at Friday’s meeting details efforts to convince commuters to consider alternatives to solo driving such as walking, biking, taking public transit, carpooling, vanpooling or working from home.
SANDAG has already conducted market research including focus groups, surveys of employers, interviews with school officials and roundtable discussion forums with business groups and community organizations.
Employers estimated that 80 percent of their workers drive alone, and that commute distances are long: the survey found that at 20 percent of companies, most workers live more than 20 miles from their workplace.
The Public Works Plan released Friday is also consistent with state Senate Bill 468, which requires that rail, highway, coastal and community improvements and environmental mitigation along the North County coast be developed concurrently, said a SANDAG staff report.
State and federal highway agencies decided in 2011 to add four lanes to the existing eight lanes on I-5 between La Jolla and Oceanside, after North County coastal residents opposed a more ambitious, six-lane option. However, some community members continue to call for the development of public transit instead of widening freeways as a way of reducing traffic congestion.