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Report: Highway spending to double over next 30 years

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With a projected local population growth of 37 percent coupled with a predicted 55 percent rise in vehicle miles traveled spanning the next 25 to 30 years, the amount of future transit and highway spending in San Diego County will double from today's levels.

According to findings from an Urban Land Institute/Ernst & Young report, which was released Tuesday, this increased spending, which will fund extensions to the light rail system and expand highways via the addition of managed lanes, will result in a rarity for metro areas.

"Congestion is actually expected to be reduced from today's levels," the report stated, adding the share of commutes via transit is projected to double from five percent today to 10 percent in the future, the greatest such shift observed among the nations' 23 largest metro areas.

Current spending levels on transit locally are tilted toward capital, while highway spending is more for maintenance and operations, the report found. However the long-range transportation plans for the region show that both highway and transit accounts will shift toward capital.

While San Diego currently is at the lower range among the nations' 23 metro areas in terms of spending on transit, the report credits the region with being the first in the U.S. to develop a light rail system, and the first to adopt Transit-Oriented Development.

The region was also one of the first areas in California to adopt a half-cent sales tax for transportation.

During the past year several transportation projects have been completed within the County including the $480 million, 22-mile Sprinter line between Oceanside and Escondido, which opened March 9.

The 11-mile toll road portion of state Route 125, now known as the South Bay Expressway, that links Otay Mesa and Spring Valley opened in November 2007.

Prior to the end of 2008 four other transportation projects will have reached completion including the middle segment of the Interstate 15 managed lanes project.

The middle segment of the project stretches between SR-56 and Centre City Parkway and will open at the end of 2008, extending the existing lanes to 14 miles of "freeway-within-a freeway," according to a Transnet January update.

Construction recently began on the second segment of I-15, which stretches from SR-56 to SR-163 and is scheduled to finish in 2012.

In 2007, westbound SR-52 was widened from two to three lanes from Mast Boulevard to Santo Road. Currently another lane is under construction on the eastbound side with a 2008 completion date.

In January a groundbreaking ceremony was held to extend SR-52 east from SR-125 through Santee to SR-67.

In October 2007, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger joined San Diego officials to celebrate the start of construction at I-5 and Lomas Santa Fe.

The event set in motion an extensive project on I-5 to widen and add managed lanes from La Jolla Village Drive to Vandegrift Boulevard near Camp Pendleton. Segments of these lanes will be completed in 2008.

The Super Loop, which will provide more travel choices in the University City area via a new circulator transit route with upgraded vehicles, will also be operational by year's end.

Construction on the projected $619 million state Route 905 freeway, between Interstate 805 and the Otay Mesa Border Crossing, began last Friday, with a slated completion date of 2012.

As predicted by the survey construction spending and transportation related building will increase locally in the coming years, as a handful of projects are planned and infrastructure funds aare currently being allocated

Earlier this April the California Transportation Commission (CTC) approved the allocation of $400 million to the San Diego region to improve infrastructure including highways, maritime facilities, rail lines and border crossings.

According to a release, the San Diego region will use the $400 million for a list of projects including: completion of SR 905, between the Otay Mesa border crossing and Interstate 805; a third border crossing at East Otay Mesa connected with state Route 11; freeway access improvements at the Port of San Diego; capacity enhancements at the National City Marine Terminal; improvements to the San Diego and Arizona Eastern Railway South Line; and improvements to the LOSSAN rail corridor.

Besides these projects a significant amount of Transnet-based projects will begin construction in the next five years.

Preliminary engineering is currently underway for the Mid-Coast Corridor Transit Project. This 11-mile trolley extension would connect the Old Town Transit Center to the University City community and the University of California, San Diego (UCSD).

In South County, preliminary engineering and environmental work for the I-805 Managed Lanes project is underway and expected to be complete in 2010.

The initial improvements on I-805 are from Palomar Street to SR-94 and include HOV lanes, which are planned to be in place by 2014. This project also includes a direct access ramp at Palomar Street to provide access to the HOV lanes.

In fall 2007 the draft environmental document for SR-76 was released for public review. The project will widen a six-mile stretch of SR-76 to four lanes from Melrose Drive to Mission Road. Construction is scheduled to begin in 2009

The construction of HOV lanes, from Carroll Canyon to the Interstate 5/805 merge, and a direct access ramp at Nobel Drive, are expected to be complete in 2014.

Aside from San Diego the recent survey, Infrastructure 2008: A Competitive Advantage, found that population growth is expected to increase 39 percent and traffic growth should rise 51 percent spanning the next 25-30 years within the 23 largest metro areas in the U.S.

"This country simply cannot afford to keep treating infrastructure as an afterthought." Said Richard Rosa, president of ULI Worldwide. "If we continue to minimize transportation infrastructure as a federal priority, we are setting our urban areas up for decline, rather than prosperity."

The report also provided a comparison of the current and planned infrastructure investment in the U.S., China, Japan, India and Europe.

"(In the U.S.) it is increasingly clear that the infrastructure funding gap will need to be addressed with public/private partnerships," said Dale Reiss, global director of real estate at Ernst & Young. "If the U.S. fails to embrace this model, it could lead to our economy falling behind more of our global competitors."

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