COMMENTARY | COLUMNISTS | JIM SCHMIDT

San Diego's transportation future: The positives, the negatives

San Diego is fortunate to have the best transportation situation in California due to the great work and dedication by SANDAG and CalTrans District 11, which continues to have the reputation as the best CalTrans district of the 12 CalTrans districts.

There are, however, some negatives led by the continual opponents to new freeway upgrades like with the opposition to SANDAG's recent approval of more traffic lanes to upgrade Interstate 5 in North County. San Diego also continues to have local road project opponents who oppose needed local road/highway connections that would allow drivers to not have to use freeways for short rides and would reduce traffic congestion on freeways. SANDAG's outstanding Board of Directors approved the I-5 upgrade in the public interest in order to help reduce the terrible traffic congestion on I-5.

This writer has been involved with highway and transportation in our region for many years and personally seen the opponents in action at hearings where many of us testify in support. It is important for private citizens to step up and "oppose the opposers." SANDAG and CalTrans are appreciative to see positive speakers at hearings.

One example of opposition to highway projects was the situation when SANDAG was placing on the 1987 ballot the TransNet plan to start collection of a half of 1 percent local sales tax to obtain the local funds to then match/attract federal and state monies for highways and transit projects. It was a crucial situation for our San Diego region and fortunately it passed, though narrowly (a 53 percent yes vote).

It was a difficult situation and a few unfortunate compromises had to be made to reduce opposition that could have defeated the measure. One change made got the extreme environmentalists, led by the Sierra Club, to go "neutral" and not oppose. A compromise was made was to take the 11-mile state Route 125 project from state Route 54 to the border area off of SANDAG's TransNet list of projects. TransNet might not have passed if that project was in the plan because of the very close 53 percent vote. The 125 connection happened a few years ago but it was done by private parties who built the 125 as a private toll road. The big negative then was the tolls had to be very high to cover the debt and pay for the management and maintenance. After about 3 years with a high toll of $4.50 each way, usage of the toll road was low, and now 125 is in bankruptcy.

SANDAG is exploring the idea of buying the toll road. If a deal can be made at the right low price SANDAG can oversee 125 as a partner with CalTrans to manage operations. The price would have to be low enough to then have the tolls be lower in order to have ridership that would be able to cover the debt. SANDAG would be able to issue tax exempt bonds, which would be a plus. If the price to buy would be low enough to have tolls low enough to make the project work the day would come when 125, as SR 125, would become a "free" state highway. Having tolls low enough to have more drivers drive up to SR 94 and will reduce traffic on SR-905, I-805 and I-5.

Our San Diego region has seen opponents lead the way to mess up the approval of local roads that keep traffic off freeways. It is bothersome to see the road opposition to projects like the Regents Road Bridge that would be up high and above Rose Canyon from the UTC area to University City. Regents Road now goes south through University City to state Route 52 and further south on the floor of the San Clemente Canyon to Clairemont. San Diego City Council approved the project five years ago. The former city attorney delayed it and last year it was not approved by a City Council committee. This project is not just a local issue, it is a regional issue since it would relieve traffic congestion on both I-5 and I-805 where people drive those freeways for short trips because of the lack of local driving options and also help reduce traffic congestion on Genesee one mile east.

Another example of a terrible decision was the opposition about three years ago by the city of San Diego to the re-opening of the one mile of Sorrento Valley Road on the west side of I-5. It was temporarily closed to build the connection of SR 56 to go south on I-5. It was contended that after the closing a few animals started to cross the road at night. A point was made: "How about only closing it from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. and let animals cross then?" Sorrento Valley Road would then resume the connection to the south from Carmel Valley to I-805 and Mira Mesa Boulevard and come back to I-5 and also tie in with a connection under I-5 to go east to the large commercial/industrial area.

East County freeways (SR-52, I-8 and SR-94) work well and better than freeways to the north due to six major east-west local road connections (like Mission Gorge Road that ties into Friars Road) that help keep traffic off of the freeways. Fortunately, these local roads were completed before local opponents surfaced. With San Diego having SANDAG and CalTrans ready to go to make things happen, there needs to be a team brought together to help support the elimination of road deletions in North City and North County. This is a regional issue and not just a local issue as people from all over the county are negatively affected by road deletions that increase freeway congestion. Over the years, this writer has seen the many pluses and the minuses. Let's team up to help our San Diego region and our citizens who commute to jobs etc.


Schmidt is a retired banker and attorney who is active with the chamber of commerce and in civic affairs in transportation, housing and sports. He also serves on two public boards and was Gov. Reagan's appointee to three positions in state government.

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1 UserComments
Kevin Wirsing 9:24am February 3, 2011

Mr. Schmidt's comments about the Regents Road bridge are shockingly ill-informed. All the traffic studies the city performed on the proposed project demonstrated that the benefits to the road system would be negligible, the out of pocket cost would be huge, and the impact on the neighborhood and Rose Canyon Open Space Park would be devastating. There is no doubt traffic would flow very efficiently all over San DIego if we just rid ourselves of our affection for open space, such as Tecolote Canyon, Mission Bay Park and the huge obstruction to traffic that is Balboa Park. We could with enough concrete became as efficient terms of traffic as the City of Industry.