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76 schedule spared in SANDAG discussion


Last updated 1/31/2008 at Noon

Those who will benefit from the completion of State Route 76 received a scare January 25 when the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) board heard the plan of finance update for the TransNet sales tax, but the board opted for an alternative which will not delay the planned 2014 completion of the highway’s widening between Oceanside and Interstate 15.

SANDAG’s 19-0 board vote approved an alterative keeping all Early Action Program projects on schedule. One alternative would have delayed the completion of State Route 76 to 2018 while another would have delayed it until 2020.

The original TransNet sales tax was approved by the county’s voters in November 1987 for a 20-year period which will end on June 30. In November 2004 the county’s voters approved a 40-year extension which will expire in 2048.

The plan of finance includes 47 major highway and transit projects totaling $4.65 billion in 2002 dollars, $2.24 billion for transit services, $1.1 billion of rail and bus rapid transit operations, $3.95 billion for local streets and roads, $625 million for environmental mitigation, $500 million for financing costs, $28 million for “smart growth” programs, $28 million for bicycle and pedestrian projects, and $15 million for program administration including an oversight committee.

In 2005 an Early Action Program (EAP) was approved which covered three projects, including the widening of Highway 76, promised in the original TransNet proposal but not completed along with four additional projects which were ready for the environmental phase.

The Independent Taxpayers Oversight Committee (ITOC) in coordination with SANDAG and CalTrans staff revised cost estimates in late 2007.

The committee initially recommended that completion of the Mid-Coast trolley line in San Diego, which would run from the Old Town station to the Golden Triangle and include a stop at the University of California, San Diego, be extended from 2014 to 2020 in order to secure more Federal funding for the project and to manage cash flow throughout the program.

SANDAG Transportation Committee members expressed concern about such a six-year delay and proposed the investigation of three alternatives.

One of those alternatives would hold all EAP schedules, allowing them to be completed as planned in 2014 or earlier. A second alternative would be to hold the completion of the Mid-Coast line at 2014 while extending the completion of all other EAP projects not already under construction to 2020, and a third alternative to share the schedule would move completion of all EAP projects not under construction to 2018.

Holding all EAP projects at 2014 would create a negative cash flow beginning in approximately 2026 and would require approximately $2.8 billion in non-TransNet funds to complete all of the projects in the TransNet program, which would translate to approximately seven percent of the expenditures.

Sharing all EAP adjustments would result in a negative cash flow by 2037 and require an additional $2.1 billion, while extending the Mid-Coast line or extending all other projects would create a negative cash flow by 2042 and require an additional $2.2 to $2.3 billion.

The ITOC subsequently recommended the alternative of holding all EAP projects at 2014. That would keep the Highway 76 widening on schedule but might adversely affect nine TransNet projects not in the Early Action Plan.

One of those involves North County bus rapid transit and Coaster improvements while the other eight involve freeway or state highway widening, high-occupancy vehicle lanes, and interchange improvements.

One of the projects not on the Early Action Program is the widening of Highway 67 between Lakeside and Ramona. The evacuation during the October 2007 Witch Fire, as well as during the 2003 Cedar Fire, caused congestion along Highway 67 as Ramona residents overburdened the highway while fleeing the fires.

La Mesa City Councilman David Allan, who is a retired firefighter, substituted for the absent Mayor Art Madrid as La Mesa’s SANDAG board representative at the January meeting.

“I don’t think you can put a value on human life,” Allan said. “We need to be looking at our corridors for emergency operations.”

SANDAG executive director Gary Gallegos informed Allan that Highway 67 doesn’t carry as much traffic as Interstates 5, 15, and 805 and thus was considered a lower priority.

County Supervisor Dianne Jacob also sought to include Highway 67 in future plans. “I would hope that there would be a second early action plan that we would be talking about at some point in time,” she said.

Jacob noted that emergency vehicle access as well as citizen evacuation was hindered by the lack of Highway 67’s capacity. “It was a major problem in Ramona,” she said.

Jacob urged emergency preparedness to be considered in future planning. “It may not be another wildfire,” she said. “It may be an earthquake.”

Clive Richards of San Diego called for completion of both the highway and transit projects in the Early Action Plan, including Highway 76.

“All of these projects are important and need to be done. They need to be done in a timely manner. They’re in the early action projects list because they need to be done early,” Richards said.

“76 is our biggest thing in Oceanside, so I am extremely happy that we’re going to keep this on track,” said Oceanside City Council member and SANDAG representative Jerome Kern.


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