San Diego County’s overarching regional public planning, transportation and research agency and its forum for regional policy decision making, the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) has big plans for 2023.
With major infrastructure projects from Del Mar to Otay Mesa, SANDAG leaders say new plans and continuation of previous work will keep the area connected in more ways than one.
Led by a board of directors made up of leaders from the 19 local governing agencies (18 cities plus the county), SANDAG makes decisions about San Diego County’s growth, transportation, planning and transit construction, environmental management, housing, open space, energy, public safety and more.
SANDAG has an annual capital program of about $500 million, with nearly 70 projects currently in the works, and SANDAG Executive Director Hasan Ikhrata said the entity is currently focused on several “priority projects,” including the Del Mar Bluffs/ Los Angeles-San Diego-San Luis Obispo (LOSSAN) rail corridor/realignment and the Otay Mesa East Port of Entry.
Ikhrata said tops on his “to-do” list is the reinforcement, protection and stabilization of the Del Mar bluffs area, a vital part of the 351-mile LOSSAN rail corridor from San Diego through Los Angeles and on toward San Luis Obispo and said “it’s no longer a pipe dream.”
The San Diego region’s segment of the LOSSAN corridor runs 60 miles from the San Diego-Orange County border to downtown San Diego. The rail corridor is an economic lifeline for the region, moving nearly eight million passengers and $1 billion worth of goods a year.
“With the state of California budget surplus last (fiscal) year, we were urging Gov. Newsom to allocate money for the track in Del Mar and we were successful,” Ikhrata said. “Specifically, we will get $300 million to start the process of moving the track off the bluff. On Dec. 4 we got the first $152 million to make the project a further reality.”
SANDAG and North County Transit District have completed an initial first four phases of bluffs stabilization. The next phase, to begin this year, will address additional seismic and general stabilization needs, install additional support columns and replace more aging drainage structures.
Two-hour Train Ride
Sharon Humphreys, senior transportation engineer at SANDAG, said the ultimate goal is to bring to the region a two-hour ride between San Diego and Los Angeles. The trip currently takes about 3½ hours.
Humphreys said at the same time the tracks need to move off sensitive coastal resources, there will also be a number of projects that will straighten out curves that force trains to slow down. She said also in the plans is a 3½-mile tunnel project, but cautioned that “these are big, expensive projects.”
“We are positioning ourselves federally for the funding that’s needed,” she said. “This is such important work.”
Ikhrata said moving people and goods quickly and safely in the south part of the county is also paramount, thus the importance of the SR 11/Otay Mesa East Port of Entry.
The OME POE is a joint venture between SANDAG and Caltrans, in collaboration with state and federal partners in the U.S. and Mexico.
The new border crossing will improve mobility and air quality in the border region, and fuel commerce and economic growth and binational trade. SANDAG and Caltrans broke ground on the Otay Mesa East Port of Entry in August 2022 with Mexico officials, and the entities anticipate completion in 2024.
“Mexico is California’s second biggest trading partner in the world, after China,” Ikhrata said. “It’s important to have a quick commute, and while we’ve had some improvements, our other two border crossings still can have up to a 3- or 4-hour wait time. That delay means idling of vehicles and emitting thousands of tons of carbon monoxide.”
A new four-lane toll road along SR 11 that will connect directly to the OME POE and a commercial vehicle enforcement facility is also coming, and Humphreys called the changes “transformational for the region.”
“The Otay Mesa project is going to be a toll crossing with an average wait time of 20 minutes,” Humphreys said. “That means less idling and greenhouse gases for people living near the border. It’s really going to change lives of individual people crossing the border. We do so much commerce exchange with Mexico, and it benefits both countries so much.”
Plans Under Consideration
Ikhrata also said that there has been discussions among officials leaning toward potentially building a subway system in San Diego and extending the San Diego Trolley system into Tijuana along the lines of Cross Border Xpress, the enclosed pedestrian bridge in San Diego that connects Tijuana International Airport passengers to and from their flights.
“We have 150,000 people coming across the border every day,” Ikhrata said.
A Central Mobility Hub for San Diego is also a top priority, he said. The hub would bring together all modes of transit in one central location, providing links to destinations throughout the region and serve everyone going to or from the airport.
SANDAG’s concept study to analyze several airport transit connection alternatives is expected to be completed soon, followed by environmental review process early this year.
EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR: Hassan Ikhrata
HEADQUARTERS: San Diego
BUSINESS: Local governing agencies
NOTABLE: SANDAG is a public agency that serves as the forum for regional government decision-making.