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SANDAG's transportation budget turns portions of I-5 and I-15 into toll roads

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Included in the San Diego Association of Governments' 2007 Regional Transportation Plan's nearly $58 billion budget is the conversion of portions of Interstates 15 and 5 into toll roads.

Michael Hix, a SANDAG principal planner, said in all likelihood these north San Diego County I-15 and I-5 segments would -- in the case of the South Bay Expressway (state Route 125) -- developed as a private venture with public oversight.

The SANDAG plan includes making toll roads of the planned managed lanes on I-5 across between state Route 76 across Camp Pendleton to the county line; and on I-15 between Escondido and the Riverside County line.

The I-5 and I-15 managed lane/toll road segments of four lanes each are projected to cost a combined total of about $3 billion.

These toll roads would extend the managed lane systems now being constructed between state Route 163 and Highway 78 on I-15, as well as the project being engineered between the I-5/805 merge and Vandergrift Boulevard in Oceanside on the I-5.

SANDAG had been exploring numerous plan options. For example, last April the agency placed its basic revenue constrained projection at $40.6 billion, but has since decided that a $58 billion option was both doable and desirable.

While the figure is likely to change with higher right-of-way and construction expenses, the $58 billion option includes not only new toll road segments but more money for a wide range of projects, from railroad tunnels to a rail segment that would go down from the main Sprinter line along the Highway 78 Corridor, and down to the North County Fair mall to the south.

Some of the larger ticket items include the projected overall completed cost of $484 million for the nearly finished Sprinter Rail (not counting another $669 million for double tracking including the extension to North County Fair). The Sprinter is slated to open by year's end.

The North County Transit District had projected a $444 million overall price tag for the Sprinter in February, but higher construction costs added another $40 million to the tab.

Another $693 million has been programmed for parking structures at numerous transit centers around the county, and more than $1 billion would be set aside for the Mid-Coast Trolley Line that could take riders from Mission Valley and Old Town up to the University Towne Centre area and the University of California, San Diego.

The Mid-Coast Line is one of those projects that could easily disappear. SANDAG officials have openly discussed doing away with the line, saying that a rapid transit bus could make a lot more financial sense.

For now, the Mid-Coast line is still a part of the plan, however.

Other large transit-related items include $1.35 billion for double-tracking coastal rail used by the Coaster and Amtrak, and another $1 billion for two coastal rail tunnels to bypass the bluffs in the Del Mar area, before going beneath University City.

Another $603 million has been proposed for new and improved transit stations and centers, $395 million is being budgeted for improvements around the county to facilitate bus rapid transit and an additional $600 million has been budgeted for regional grade separations. This line item had been $363 million under the revenue-constrained plan.

SANDAG officials originally only planned for $280 million for new fixed-rail vehicles for new service, but a total of $489 million can be budgeted under the new scenario. "We have a lot more money under this plan," Hix said.

As for ongoing freeway projects, numerous highway improvements are currently under construction, including further improvements to Interstates 5, 15 and 805, and state Routes 52, 76 and 905.

This highway work doesn't include other items such as about $350 million for a new border crossing on East Otay Mesa.

The RTP also has budgeted $206 million of its total for a Smart Growth Incentive Program implemented as a result of SANDAG's Mobility 2030 effort.

The RTP projects would be paid for from an array of sources ranging from local TransNet half-cent sales tax funds, to state and federal monies.

The 2007 RTP builds upon the transportation system in place today and the major projects in progress from the agency's 2030 mobility plan.

"During the next 25 years, we can expect to share our communities with more than a million new neighbors. We will create 465,000 more jobs and build 290,000 new homes," the report stated, before adding that planning the region's transportation infrastructure is now more important than ever.

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