Measure A Doesn’t Do Enough to Get Cars Off the Road
By John Lawrence
In a nutshell, Measure A is a something-for-everybody approach that doesn’t do enough to concentrate on climate change. A full on effort to get cars off the road and people onto public transit would do much more. That means more trolley and light rail lines paralleling major freeways.
Measure A brings up more questions than answers. It seems that the whole purpose of Measure A is just to do the same things that SANDAG has already been doing, but at a faster pace. They already duped the voters into a half-cent sales tax hike with TransNet, which is an ongoing pot of money. With it, SANDAG is supposed to be doing the right thing in terms of San Diego County infrastructure. The only reason they would need more money is to speed up the process of combatting global warming. This measure does not do that.
Why doesn’t Measure A specifically call for more transit build out? Why isn’t getting cars off the roads a priority? We have a critical need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in order to try and save the planet from global warming. Some people think it’s even too late to do that, but business as usual–which is SANDAG’s approach–will not even make an attempt.
The SANDAG website says: “The long-range planning document called San Diego Forward: The Regional Plan was approved by the SANDAG Board of Directors in October 2015 after three years of extensive public engagement.”
Extensive public engagement? I hardly remember that. It seems that SANDAG came up with some plan, and now is asking the voters to approve a tax to implement it. The plan is basically just more of the same: build more roads, facilitate more automobile traffic and the heck with mass transit or getting cars off the road.
Less Than Half the Funds Will Go To Transit
Regarding transit, the SANDAG website says: “About 42 percent ($7.5 billion) of the funds generated by Measure A would be invested in specific transit projects, including a new Trolley line between San Ysidro and Kearny Mesa, increased frequencies on the existing Trolley system, more than a dozen new Rapid transit routes, improvements to the COASTER and SPRINTER, and more.”
Well and good, but why do the voters have to vote on this?
It seems that SANDAG simply wants another funding source and more power, and they’re asking the voters to provide one. Already, the Mid-Coast trolley line which would provide service to UCSD and University Town Center has started construction or will this year. The Federal Transit Administration is giving SANDAG a $1 billion grant to complete this construction. This agreement was signed after Measure A went on the ballot. Shouldn’t this development affect whether or not voters approve a half-cent sales tax on themselves?
Measure A is out of date.
As for the “new Trolley line between San Ysidro and Kearny Mesa,” this does not sound like such a big deal. There is already a trolley line from San Ysidro to Mission Valley which is adjacent to Kearny Mesa. The Mid-Coast line will approach Kearny Mesa from the other side. What’s so important about Kearny Mesa? It seems to me that a Trolley line from downtown to University City, which would have a stop at Balboa Park and the Zoo is more important as well as a branch line serving the airport. A trolley line, or rather a light rail line, from Mission Valley to Escondido up the 163 and I-15 corridor replacing bus service and connecting with the SPRINTER would also help get car traffic off the road. This would complement the COASTER, which only serves cities along the coast.
Service should be improved for trolley lines adjacent to major freeways in order to get car traffic off them. There is a tipping point at which the convenience of taking the trolley will outweigh the inconvenience of sitting in traffic.
A Trolley Line to Nowhere
Only 3% of the projected funds will be invested in bike and pedestrian projects. This seems like a paltry amount, almost negligible. It shouldn’t even be on the ballot. Furthermore, those types of projects were supposed to be covered by TransNet. But I guess they’re popular so why not pander to the voters again? The ballot should be as simple as possible so the voters can get their heads around it. Multiple provisions just confuse voters. Keep It Simple Stupid: the KISS principle.
It seems that Measure A is all about funding the San Diego Forward: The Regional Plan which is something SANDAG dreamed up to increase their funding. They are trying to sell it to the public as something that would reduce greenhouse gasses. Well, it’s not quite enough in that regard. Too little, too late, in my opinion.
The Measure is too unfocused and tries to give a little something to every constituency. If they really want to get cars off the road, it should be all about completing major transit lines and forget everything else. A Measure that is too complicated like this one only adds to the confusion of the public.
San Diego residents have already approved a half-cent sales tax on themselves called TransNet. The TransNet program, which includes bike lanes by the way, has been extended to 2048. Now SANDAG wants to up it by another half cent. The result will be a one cent sales tax for SANDAG projects. Probably a lot of this will go to executive salaries. How can we be assured that it won’t? Every agency wants to increase its power and its budget.
TransNet was supposed to have an oversight committee to make sure the money was spent effectively. But guess what? The chairman of the oversight committee is also a lobbyist for contractors who are the main beneficiaries of the funds and would be the main beneficiaries of Measure A. This is from Voice of San Diego:
Independent Oversight Promised With Last SANDAG Tax Hike Not So Independent
Brad Barnum heads the TransNet Independent Taxpayer Oversight Committee, a role that involves receiving staff reports, hiring and overseeing an auditor, advising public officials periodically – and, as needed – about the program’s efficiency and project costs, schedule and bond debt.
Barnum lobbies for 1,100 contractors, who he says perform 85 percent of the region’s commercial, industrial, general engineering and heavy highway construction.
A decent chunk of that work comes from SANDAG, and millions from the TransNet bond measure specifically, public records show.
As P.T. Barnum said who, for all I know, might be one of Brad Barnum’s relatives, “There’s a sucker born every minute.” It seems that this is a clear case of the fox guarding the hen house as they used to say in Tennessee.
So now they want more money so they can feather their nests even more?
They have not spent their money effectively in the past unless you count the fact that it has made contractors rich. Previous SANDAG investments in enlarging the freeway system by building HOV and bypass lanes that are not fully utilized have wasted money by complicating the freeway system while leading to under-utilization of the increased capacity. Just adding regular lanes would have been a more cost-effective solution that would have done more to reduce congestion. But all the complicated freeway designs have put money in contractors’ pockets, for sure. And the contractors who build roads, not trolley lines, are Brad Barnum’s real constituency.
A light rail system down the major freeway corridors would do the most to combat climate change. But that would take money out of the pockets of the contractors who build freeways. A different set of contractors would be involved. Those are probably the ones not represented by Brad Barnum.
Getting Trucks Off the Road Should Be a Priority
Provisions should also be added to future transit development to reduce truck and commercial traffic on the freeways. One way this could be accomplished is to allow some freight and commercial cars on transit so that transit lines would not only carry people but freight as well. There should be an allowance for tools that would make it possible for workmen to bring tools on transit so that they wouldn’t have to truck them to every job. Getting truck traffic off the freeways should be a priority. Light rail could accommodate this if it set out to do so. How about a little creativity here?
Although we here in San Diego may escape the more grievous consequences of climate change, we owe it to our fellow citizens elsewhere to do all we can to combat it:
Now, those warnings are no longer theoretical: The inundation of the coast has begun. The sea has crept up to the point that a high tide and a brisk wind are all it takes to send water pouring into streets and homes.
Federal scientists have documented a sharp jump in this nuisance flooding — often called “sunny-day flooding” — along both the East Coast and the Gulf Coast in recent years. The sea is now so near the brim in many places that they believe the problem is likely to worsen quickly. Shifts in the Pacific Ocean mean that the West Coast, partly spared over the past two decades, may be hit hard, too.
These tidal floods are often just a foot or two deep, but they can stop traffic, swamp basements, damage cars, kill lawns and forests, and poison wells with salt. Moreover, the high seas interfere with the drainage of storm water.
In coastal regions, that compounds the damage from the increasingly heavy rains plaguing the country, like those that recently caused extensive flooding in Louisiana. Scientists say these rains are also a consequence of human greenhouse emissions.
But SoCal will not get off scot-free. We will suffer from wildfires and droughts just like the rest of California. We will need to build more desalination plants and devote more resources to wildfire fighting and control. That’s in addition to sea water flooding of low lying areas like Mission Beach, Pacific Beach and Ocean Beach.
In short, in light of the FTA $1 billion grant, Measure A is out of date. In my opinion, any ballot measure should be all about transit projects. Giving a large part of the money raised by the half-cent tax to local cities to use as they want is not SANDAG’s purpose in my view. Those local communities can raise their own money and tax as they see fit.
New road construction should be discouraged especially complex projects like HOV lanes and exits in the middle of the freeway as they built in the Rancho Bernardo area. A castle could have been built for less money.
When congestion is bad enough and transit gets better, at some point, commuters will switch to transit as long as it becomes more convenient. That should be SANDAG’s goal. And let’s address the issue of getting truck traffic off the road. Rail service should be encouraged.
The original article incorrectly stated that “SANDAG interactive map shows a trolley service route to Ramona.” Measure A does not include a trolley route to Ramona.
The article incorrectly noted a “rail line going from nowhere in La Mesa to nowhere in Spring Valley.” There is no rail line connecting these two locations. There is however a new peak period commuter route (Rapid 90) between El Cajon and Downtown via the SR 94 corridor communities.
The above corrections were provided by SANDAG Senior Public Information Officer.