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Possible Solutions to Traffic Nightmares Sit in Voters’ Hands

Possible Solutions to Traffic Nightmares Sit in Voters’ Hands

TransNet Extension Could Produce $14B For S.D. Road Projects, Highways, Mass Transit

BY LISA KOVACH

As freeways become more crowded and traffic becomes worse, officials in San Diego County are counting on TransNet, the half-cent sales tax funding transportation projects throughout the region, to help improve the region’s transportation network.

Touted as Proposition A on the November ballot, TransNet looks to generate $14 billion for highways, mass transit and local road projects. The measure is a 40-year extension of the existing TransNet tax and would begin when the original measure ends in 2008.

The funds will be divided up into $4.4 billion for highways, $4.6 billion for mass transit and $4.5 billion for local streets and roads.

The remaining money will go to bicycle and pedestrian projects and administration fees.

The allocations were decided by a combination of the region’s transportation plan and input from the community, said Garry Bonelli, communications director for the San Diego Association of Governments, a regional planning agency and proponent of the measure.

TransNet was first approved in 1987 when San Diego voters approved a 20-year, $3.3 billion transportation program.

Since its approval in 1987, the county has spent nearly $2.4 billion adding 227 lane miles to the highways, financing more than 800 local road projects and expanding transit in the region by adding 85 miles of trolley and commuter rail lines.

Mass Transit Gets Mass Money

At 34 percent of the funding, mass transit receives the most money from TransNet, the reasoning, Bonelli said, is that mass transit can simply transport more people.

“The whole premise of TransNet is how do we move the most people, not the most vehicles,” Bonelli said. “We looked at what works best to move the most people.”

County Supervisor Dianne Jacob said the high mass transit amount is not necessary.

TransNet should focus more on freeways instead of mass transit, Jacob said.

“There should be a portion of the money going to mass transit,” Jacob said. “But the current formula is way out of whack. The congestion on the majority of roads in San Diego is high and only 2 percent of the population use mass transit.”

Too Much For Mass Transit

An allocation of no less than 20 percent of the TransNet funds should be directed toward mass transit, Jacob said.

“According to Sandag’s own estimation, mass transit will only consist of maybe 10 to 15 percent of the population in the next 40 years. If 85 percent of the population is in their automobiles, then we need to focus on highways and roads.”

The mass transit projects scheduled for implementation if TransNet is approved include nearly $2.7 million in bus rapid transit and rail transit capital improvements, such as bus rapid transit service from Escondido to Downtown San Diego and from San Ysidro to Sorrento Mesa, according to Sandag. The money will also go toward supporting transportation services for senior and riders with disabilities.

“When you look at mass transit it is a huge gamble in hopes that people will get out of their car and start riding transit,” Jacob said. “When you throw money at buses it is like throwing money down a rat hole. Mass transit is just not working in the region.”

Jacob said the key to TransNet needs to be in how the mass transit money is spent.

“Let’s spend the money on the existing system,” Jacob said. “Let’s focus and put all our energy focusing on how we can make the existing system more efficient, user friendly and increase the ridership.”

Mitch Mitchell, the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce’s vice president of public policy and communications, said the buses are a great tool for transportation but they do not get riders to their destination any quicker then an automobile would.

“Right now you still sit in the exact same traffic as you sit in your car,” Mitchell said.

That may change when construction is completed on the bus rapid transit system on Interstate 15, which will provide direct access to transit centers and park-and-ride lots.

The BRT lanes will add four lanes utilized specifically by buses to I-15, “a freeway within a freeway,” Bonelli said.

The I-15 BRT lanes should be completed within the decade, Bonelli said.

TransNet funds will also go to adding BRT lanes on the entire length of Interstate 805 and on a “good portion” of Interstate 5, Bonelli said.

“Our goal is not to get people to use transit every day, but if used twice a week it can have a major impact,” the chamber’s Mitchell said.

Mitchell, who said he rides the Coaster, the rail line operating from Oceanside to San Diego, three times a week, said TransNet needs to focus on the existing system.

“A combination of freeways along with mass transit is the best approach for future growth,” Mitchell said. “As far as the combination of moneys, we need to make our greater focus on improving what we have now. The chamber has made a commitment to improving the mass transit for the region and improve the existing service. Buses do have a significant role in the overall mass transit system.”

Lisa Briggs, the executive director of the San Diego County Taxpayers Association, said TransNet funds are divided appropriately and the funds allocated to mass transit are just a piece of the puzzle.

“To focus solely on highways and roads and not transit is not a good idea,” Briggs said. “Our transit system is not good, but we need to pay attention to it. You have to strike a balance.”

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