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Thursday, Nov 30, 2023

EDITOR’S NOTEBOOK — Car-Pooling a Breeze Until Express Lane Ends

I consider myself among the fortunate.

I rarely have to fight traffic, I don’t have to take out a second on the house to fill up the family van, and I normally arrive at work in a relatively sane frame of mind.

I car-pool.

Only since late December have we been riding together, and it’s not every day either. Three or four days a week we meet at the Carmel Mountain Ranch park and ride, hop on the express lane and zip past the tens of thousands of cars that usually inch along Interstate 15 until it breaks up just shy of MCAS Miramar.

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But boy, is it worth it. Fortunately for me, I live in Poway. Unfortunately for Assistant Editor Julie Gallant and Staff Writer Rita Fennelly, who car-pool with me, they have to crawl down the I-15 corridor from Escondido. Worse for Rita, she often meets with heavy traffic on Highway 78 on her way from Vista to meet Julie.

We are among the estimated 250,000 or so people who share a ride. But looking at the cars creeping along the freeway, and the sparse number of drivers in the express lane, that’s a generous figure.

We all should consider ourselves among the lucky ones. At least we have an express lane.

Still, the best thing that could happen for Julie and Rita is an extension of the express lane north to Lake Hodges.

That may be a dream sketch on some Caltrans’ engineer’s drawing board; such a plan seems unlikely. Oddly enough, plans to run a trolley north probably won’t happen either.

So, what are we going to do to ease the commute? It’s the million-dollar question.

It will be an issue during the mayor’s race in November. And several government offices are scrambling to come up with a quick answer before a state senator’s plan to create one regional super-agency really catches fire and puts them out of a job.

One agency in particular has its neck on the line. The San Diego Association of Governments has proposed a regional transportation plan that would ease congestion by 2020, when the county’s population is estimated at a cozy 4 million people.

A couple months back Sandag unveiled a regional transportation plan. Admittedly ambitious, the program endorses widening roads and enhancing mass transit. The price tag? It will cost some $29 billion, about $12 billion of which will come out of our pockets in the form of tax increases. Whatever it takes to get from point A to point B, I guess.

It may be too little, too late for Sandag, a group composed of representatives from all 18 cities, the county Board of Supervisors and other regional agencies. Sandag basically has watched the region grow without really doing anything about it.

If it is a regional governing board, then why not address the transportation ramifications of San Marcos’ approval of the 4,000-plus-unit San Elijo development a couple years ago? Or why did they allow the side-by-side density when San Diego approved Carmel Mountain Ranch in the early 1980s? Or Bernardo Heights? Or Sabre Springs? Or Miramar Ranch-Scripps Ranch Villages?

And don’t forget about southwest Riverside County. There are thousands of commuters who make that unenviable trek southward. It doesn’t make our commute any easier. Sandag has no effect in how that region develops, no matter what the impact. And frankly, the board’s effect as a regional planning agency has been largely toothless. It was the voters of San Diego in the mid-1980s who stayed the development of the Future Urbanizing Area, the 3,000-plus acres nestled between Rancho Penasquitos and Carmel Valley.

Here’s an idea to entice more people to car-pool. Some companies are susidizing their employees’ use of public transportation. Businesses can give employees up to $65 a month for alternative transportation and get a tax break. Unfortunately for most workers, what takes 20 minutes in a car would take two hours by bus.

As traffic increases , at least in the commute from inland North County , we may have no one to blame but ourselves. Two major developments were approved by voters in November 1998 that will add nearly 10,000 new homes just south of Lake Hodges. The builders assured us the impact on traffic would be minimal, since a planned business park would keep many of the residents within the community. Perhaps; we shall see 10 years from now.

Now, I’m not fully advocating state Sen. Steve Peace’s RITA plan to overhaul local government. For all the good it could do, I don’t like the idea of a regional board telling my city council how to develop our city.

For the time being, though, the three of us will pile into each others’ vehicles. I’ll enjoy the relatively short hop from Poway to Murphy Canyon. But once beyond the freedom of the express lane, car-poolers like Julie and Rita get no special treatment. They’re just like everyone else fighting for that extra foot of space as they try to get home.


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