Better roads or public transit? County debates transportation future

SAN DIEGO -- The San Diego County Board of Supervisors approved a formal letter this week calling out a new regional transportation plan that some board members say neglects needed highway improvement in favor of more mass transit.

The board's 3-2 vote, with Greg Cox and Nathan Fletcher opposed, comes after the San Diego Association of Government unveiled a new regional transportation plan last week.

In 2004, 67 percent of San Diego voters approved a 40-year extension of TransNet, a half-cent sales tax to generate funds for highway, road and public transit projects.

As requested by Supervisors Jim Desmond and Kristin Gaspar, the county letter will oppose any modification to the 2004 TransNet Extension Ordinance, including changes to the highway projects and their funding; advocate for highway and road projects in the new Regional Transportation Plan; and request that SANDAG pursue new sources of funding for projects not listed in the 2004 TransNet Extension Ordinance.

Desmond said SANDAG's overhaul removes 14 highway projects.

Desmond added while he's not opposed to a new vision, original highway projects need to remain -- otherwise, voters are paying an additional 29 years for projects they won't receive.

"A functioning road and freeway system is essential to our economy," Desmond said.

Gaspar said the SANDAG vision doesn't include a price tag, and that any plan shouldn't be modeled after mass transit in Los Angeles or Seattle, given their commute programs.

Further, she added that plans calling for mass transit near affordable housing are deceptive because such housing goals haven't been met.

Fletcher said ultimately, the county must take climate change seriously, and any letter in opposition to SANDAG's new vision is a step backward.

The way to reduce congestion is giving people transit options, he said.

"Today the majority of the board made a choice to contribute to increases in greenhouse gas emissions and traffic congestion. My choice is to fight for a better future and reject the idea of clinging to a failed past," Fletcher said. "The non-binding resolution will not prevent SANDAG and our community from moving forward with delivering fast, safe, reliable and green transit for San Diego."

Cox agreed that TransNet promises should be kept, but said it would be premature to reject the new SANDAG plan.

Board Chairwoman Dianne Jacob said she doesn't oppose new SANDAG proposals on mass transit, but the agency should call for a separate ballot measure and not break faith with voters on critical highway projects, or the public may never again approve new transportation proposals.

The board voted after hearing from more than 20 public speakers, both in support and opposition, to the SANDAG plan.

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